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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 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 re-create information that was on the New York computer network using backup tapes in the Washington, D.C., office. In the meantime, Haraf said, the firm’s East Coast lawyers could still communicate with one another using BlackBerry handheld devices. Each unit is loaded with the firm’s complete contact list, including the user codes for each unit. Using the codes, lawyers can send e-mail from one BlackBerry to another without having to rely on the firm’s network, Haraf said. For some firms, the outage was a fire drill of sorts. Thelen Reid found that its staff in San Francisco didn’t know how to access the firm’s backup accounting system, Heisse said. Plus, a main communications artery linking the firm’s Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., offices was out. But staff wasn’t sure if the power outage was to blame or if a problem existed prior to the blackout, Heisse said. “We certainly need to look at what we’ve done and see if it’s enough,” Heisse said. For local outposts of New York firms, the problems were immediately clear. Conference calls were cut off, e-mail traffic was interrupted and technical staff began blitzing lawyers with notes alerting them to trouble. Douglas Tanner, managing partner of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy’s office in Palo Alto, Calif., said he was on the phone with a fellow partner who was giving him an opinion on a corporate document. Though the firm still had phone service, its Manhattan headquarters was without lights. Tanner said the conversation with his fellow partner could have continued — as long as the afternoon sunlight held out.

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