Magazine article Information Management

A Disaster Plan in Action: How a Law Firm in the World Trade Center Survived 9/11 with Vital Records and Employees Intact

Magazine article Information Management

A Disaster Plan in Action: How a Law Firm in the World Trade Center Survived 9/11 with Vital Records and Employees Intact

Article excerpt

When two planes slammed into the World Trade Center (WTC) buildings on September 11, 2001 (9/11), the law firm Sidley Austin Brown & Wood LLP (SAB&W) was hit directly. The firm occupied floors 54 through 59 in the North Tower, the building hit first. Within the first hour of hearing the news in the main office in Chicago, the firm's disaster recovery plan was pulled from shelves, copied, and distributed to key supervisory personnel and management committee lawyers.

Just five months earlier, SAB&W was formed through the merger of Sidley & Austin and Brown & Wood to become a single multinational firm with 1,500 lawyers and more than 3,000 total personnel working in 14 offices in six countries. In New York on 9/11, approximately 600 people were assigned to the WTC offices and 400 to the office on Third Avenue in midtown Manhattan.

The firm was in the process of consolidating the different systems--manual and automated--from both firms, as each had its own network with different hubs, as well as two different e-mail systems (Outlook and Lotus Notes), document management systems (iManage and PCDocs), and telephone systems. The systems consolidation was just beginning, with September 30 and December 31 being the next target dates for many system changes.

Although all client/matter numbers were changed in a data conversion in May 2001, several more data conversions were planned, with the final data consolidation in the records departments scheduled for September 15-17. This involved changing all barcoded folder numbers for the former Brown & Wood's 300,000 folders, as this was far less than the former Sidley & Austin's 2 million folders.

Protecting Vital Records

When the disaster recovery plan was instituted, the first documents needed were contact lists: employees' home and emergency phone numbers, vendor lists, and client lists. Of greatest concern was the safety of the firm's employees. Human resources personnel in the Chicago office began calling all New York employees, and by the next morning, all but a handful were accounted for. By September 13, only one individual had not been located.

The emphasis on communication continued throughout the day on 9/11 and for several weeks afterward. Bulletins were posted on the firm's Internet site,, and the management committee sent internal e-mails to all personnel. A quick decision was made on 9/11 to staff the switchboard for 48 hours with SAB&W operators between 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m., instead of using an answering service. This was done in order to provide a live contact for anyone calling the firm. All New York calls were routed to Chicago, and the former weather hotline was changed to an emergency line to provide ongoing updates and information.

The timetable for many system consolidations was suddenly moved up two weeks, and backup tapes played a crucial role. The weekly backup tapes from all systems in the WTC were stored offsite in New Jersey, which turned out to be a propitious decision. These tapes were driven to Chicago, where the main servers reside and data consolidations would take place.

Meanwhile in New York, by the afternoon of 9/11 a partner had procured additional office space in the Third Avenue building to accommodate 600 additional people. The purchasing department got on the phone and bought new computers from Dell Systems to be delivered to the Third Avenue office. They also acquired used furniture for offices and hotel space in New York for out-of-town personnel and those unable to return home.

Some of the firm's vital records consisted of client, personnel, vendor and services lists, backup tapes, floor plans with personnel locations identified, inventory lists of equipment, furniture, and supplies, procedures manuals, docket calendars, and blank checks. Most of these were used in the days after 9/11. Some items were available because they were part or a planned dispersal in which they had been copied and sent offsite for safe keeping. …

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