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One of the problems with going global is that when disaster occurs in some far-flung locale, every corner of the law firm is affected. Take Thursday’s massive blackout on the East Coast. Though the power was out in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and parts of Canada, the effects were felt acutely elsewhere. At Thelen Reid & Priest, for example, the firm’s accounting team was hamstrung. Computer servers in New York serve as a hub for the systems in San Francisco; thus, the accounting department was “somewhat restricted in what they could do today,” said John Heisse II, Thelen’s San Francisco managing partner. The chaos that occurred in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks gave law firm managers a lesson in what might occur if a major store of documents or firm information is lost. But two years later, firms are still largely unprepared to deal with the loss of a major office. “They understand backing up files,” said Peter Zeughauser, a principal at law firm consultant Zeughauser Group, “but on a firmwide basis, did they really address what would happen if there were a more organization-wide threat?” Zeughauser, who is based in Newport Beach, Calif., said firm managers worry about disaster planning as they mull over global expansion plans. But few have gone far enough in their planning, much less consulted or hired a risk management professional, Zeughauser said. “I don’t think anyone has the whole thing wired, so that no one feels it without a glitch,” Zeughauser said. With about 125 lawyers in New York, Morrison & Foerster managers started thinking about disaster planning after Sept. 11, but they weren’t ready for Thursday, said Jo Haraf, MoFo’s chief information officer. The firm’s two major endeavors-adopting a synchronized, backup e-mail service and creating a twin for each computer network server in New York-are still in the final testing stages. Haraf said she was disappointed that her new systems couldn’t be tested real-time on Thursday. “The timing of this is very sad,” Haraf said. “This could have been really cool, not that I wish it on my colleagues in New York.” Haraf put a contingency plan in place to cope with the blackout if it lasted longer than a few hours. In that event, the firm would recreate information that was on the New York computer network using backup tapes in the Washington office. In the meantime, Haraf said, the firm’s East Coast lawyers could still communicate with one another using BlackBerry handheld devices.

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