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FIRM NAME: SIDLEY & AUSTIN Location: Chicago Size: 838 attorneys Exec. Comm. Chairman: Thomas A. Cole; Mgmt. Comm. Chairman: Charles W. Douglas How would your firm fare if all lawyers and staff were locked out of the firm’s primary office space for 24 hours? For three days? Longer? Managers at Sidley & Austin faced that question after a flood in April 1992 that swept through downtown Chicago. The crisis was caused by a construction crew mishap on a Chicago River bridge. Drilling a piling into the riverbed, workers inadvertently punctured an old coal tunnel system beneath, which ran into the basements of many of the buildings located in Chicago’s downtown Loop. Although the flood was contained underground, much of the city was darkened as basements were flooded, power was cut off and workers were evacuated. Sidley & Austin, which occupies 13 floors of Chicago’s Bank One Plaza, escaped harm, as the building was too new to be connected to the freight tunnels. But seeing other businesses suffer — 15,000 workers were kept from the Sears Tower — got firm managers thinking. How long can a law firm stay solvent if its lawyers can’t bill? “We kind of realized … we didn’t have any kind of proactive plan,” says Facilities Management Director Cynthia A. Dvorak. So staff began developing the firm’s first emergency response plan. Its team was led by Dvorak, along with the firm’s human resources director and records manager. “I guess the thing that’s most challenging is that once you start to address one issue, you realize how many others you have to address,” Dvorak says. The group set as its goal the creation of a business-continuation plan in the event of a natural disaster, such as a fire, flood or tornado. The firm has separate plans to deal with health and safety emergencies, she says. The next step was to come up with a set of assumptions. The group decided it wanted to create a plan that would get critical business functions up and running within 24 hours of losing access to Bank One Plaza. Fortunately, the firm also has administrative space across the street, which accommodates about 200 people. Assuming that it would be able to use at least some of that space in a pinch, the team planned to support a mini-firm of about 100 people — 40 lawyers, 20 secretaries, 20 legal assistants and 20 administrative staff members. “We want … our clients to know that we [would be] still able to serve them,” says Dvorak. To coordinate a crisis effort, the plan organizes staff and lawyers into three teams — crisis management, administrative and technology. The crisis management team is made up of attorneys who sit on firm management committees and some senior administrators. The other teams have key administrative and information systems staff, and there is some overlap among teams. The plan has a telephone tree enabling team members to reach out to others within the firm. In the event of an emergency, senior management is to decide on a course of action and communicate it to the crisis management team, which activates the telephone tree. All team members are instructed to have two copies of the plan and to keep one offsite. Team members also are responsible for updating backup information kept offsite, which includes lists of clients, vendors, office equipment and an inventory listing materials that are stored offsite. Next on the agenda is a series of drills to make sure the telephone tree works and team members know what they’re supposed to do. Developing the emergency plan has been slow going, Dvorak admits. It isn’t done, and she doubts it ever will be, she says, because it must be continually updated.

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