Succession Planning for the Law Firm

Citations crash course

Recently, someone told me that succession planning for her firm didn’t sound interesting at all and she didn’t need it because she was a millennial. I hadn’t bought into the “millennials think they are invincible” theory completely until that moment. Well, I’m here to tell you the bad news: Unpredictable things happen to everyone — millennials included. More bad things happen to older lawyers, but when bad things happen to younger ones, I count it as a greater shock that requires more planning and fortification against hardship. So, yes, most people die without a will or any succession planning. But lawyers shouldn’t.

A succession plan for your firm is a necessity to protect client confidences and interests and your family in case of an emergency, disability, or death of a lawyer.

Please do not berate yourself for not taking this step yet. Now is the time to take action with a few simple steps that will protect until you get a more robust plan. Here is an example of a plan you can implement in one week:

The Super-Simple Succession-This-Week Plan

  • Pick an assisting attorney. Ask a colleague to serve as your assisting attorney if something happens to you. She would be responsible for taking over the IOLTA, triaging cases to find homes for them, and helping to wind up the firm’s obligations and assets. Try to pick a successor assisting attorney, in case your first pick cannot serve when the time comes.
  • Pick an assuming attorney. These are the lawyers who will take your cases. Ask a colleague (or a few) who work in similar practice areas to take the cases being triaged out.
  • Create an active case file list. Make an active case file list — and keep it up to date. Include the name or case number, status of the case, contact information, and any upcoming hearings, trial dates, statues of limitations, and other deadlines. Review it at least weekly.
  • Create a case file index. Make an easy-to-follow list of all your past and current files and where they can be found.
  • Chart the office. Collect data such as passwords, vendor records and contact information, contracts, leases, and other important information in one place and log it for the assisting attorney and/or staff to access and use in case of an emergency.

The Law Office Management Assistance Program Planning Ahead Handbook contains forms and more information on a simple plan.

For materials on a more robust plan and a discussion of Succession Planning for the Law Firm, register for the free Legal Lunchbox continuing legal education course this Tuesday, June 24, at noon. It will be the final topic I cover in a five-part, 1.5-hour continuing legal education course on “Fundamental Practices for your Law Firm.

One thought on “Succession Planning for the Law Firm

  1. Roberto Castro

    This past week one of the topics discussed at the NACVA Annual Conference was valuation of law practices and what is considered personal and business goodwill for valuation purposes. Of course, the later issues are critical in divorce cases, but it is interesting to hear how that spills over in the areas of buy-sell agreements and how the value can be distorted by ab agreement and challenged.

    The consensus is that most law firms do not have a buy-sell agreement and relying on rules of thumb as a benchmark is dangerous. One east coast adviser and attorney commented that some areas of practice are more lucrative than others since there is business goodwill, but that the law partners had been able to negotiate terms favorable to partners that had personal goodwill.

    The bottom line is that some partners are rolling over and leaving money in the table for more senior partners and also that solo practitioners need to get the process “rolling” if they hope to sell a practice for more than the FMV of their hard assets.

    As an attorney an business broker in WA State, I can count the number of partners that are walking away from their practices and leaving empty-handed. What a shame. A business broker that gets what is at stake can return some money for the hard efforts. The questions is whether the solo practitioner or small town practitioner is willing to unveil the proverbial :kimono to enable the knowledgeable broker to assist them and hear what needs to be one to monetize the effort.

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