Plan for Emergencies (and Survive Them)

Running a solo practice is more than just practicing law—you are also running a business.

Unlike most businesses, most solo attorneys do everything on their own: from IT support, to managing finances, and dealing with clients (customers).

That means when something goes wrong you have to deal with it and you have to fix it.

But if you plan for an emergency in advance, it will be much easier to overcome. 

Backup? What backup?

You are nuts if you don’t have data backup. Frankly, I think you’re nuts if you don’t have redundant backups.

If your computer fries itself during an incredibly stressful/important/life-altering day, how fast could you be up and running? I could drive home and sync one of my old laptops to my Dropbox account. Or I could simply turn on my MacMini that basically operates as a backup computer.

In other words: the next time you upgrade your work computer, you may want to hang onto your old computer as a backup. It’s a lot cheaper than sprinting to the Best Buy or the Apple Store.

Dropbox is great, but it just syncs everything in your Dropbox. What about all your programs, settings, and files that are not stored in Dropbox?

If you use a Mac, you can setup Time Machine. If your computer shoots itself, you can restore everything from an external drive. That’s pretty rad. You can run a similar backup process with Carbonite, although I believe there can big a slightly longer delay time, depending on how you restore your files.

Emergency cash/credit

Working late hours and billing clients does not always equate to good cash flow. In case you are just joining us, you need cash flow to run a successful business. If your computer explodes and you need a new one, an empty checking account is not going to replace it. In my household, my income is the household income. That means I need to pay myself every month. If cash flow stinks that month, I can’t call my mortgage lender and use that as an excuse.

Hopefully you have some cash reserves for situations like that. In the alternative, even if you don’t actively use it, a firm credit card or line of credit can be a lifesaver.

This is especially true if you litigate. Sometimes depositions are scheduled (or not cancelled) at the last minute. Good luck explaining your non-appearance to opposing counsel because of insufficient funds in your firm’s operating account. I haven’t seen that exact situation, but I have seen attorneys change the direction of cases based on cash flow issues. That’s a little frightening.

Break a leg? Call your stand-in

The greatest part about being a solo attorney is that you get to call all the shots and do all the fun stuff. The worst part about being a solo attorney is you have to do the fun stuff and all the other stuff too.

When you have an emergency (a real emergency), it’s a good idea to have another attorney ready to take your place at a moment’s notice. I don’t mean someone that can handle something after an hour of debriefing. I mean someone that you can call and tell them what to do in five minutes or less. That’s a big difference. If you don’t know someone like that, you need to find someone that fits the bill.

Maybe your child or a family member is the ER, or maybe you are just really really sick. Most of the time, you can probably reschedule the event, or call the court/opposing counsel. But sometimes you can’t. And when you are faced with that situation, you need to have a stand-in that you feel comfortable with.

You can’t predict calamities and emergencies. But you can absolutely have a plan to deal with them when they occur.


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