By Nerino Petro at 10 August, 2009, 11:00 am
Succession Planning. That’s right, those two dirty words in the legal profession that very few want to openly discuss, let alone do anything about. When lawyers fail to properly plan for their succession albeit from a sale, retirement, disability or death, what you do is leave a mess for your loved ones, staff and the lawyer who will have to come in and clean things up.
We’ve all seen the pictures of the person sitting at the desk against a backdrop of a mountain of papers (or something similar) and many think, "Yeah, right." To prove that truth is stranger than fiction, checkout fellow Practice Management Advisor (PMA) for South Carolina Courtney Kennaday’s post When You Go to Heaven... and take a look at the pictures: these are from an actual attorney’s office where the person made no provision for succession planning and left this mess behind. How would you like to be the family or staff member that had to deal with this? Everyone should read the linked article When You Go to Heaven, Will Your Practice Go to Hell? by Courtney and Reid Trautz as a motivator to keep this from happening to you.
A good place to start is your state’s Rules of Professional Conduct. In Wisconsin, attorneys should look to Chapter 12 of the Rules for guidance. I’ve worked with Wisconsin attorneys to avoid having the Courts appoint someone to deal with their death or disability. At least one has made arrangements with another attorney to act as "trustee" so to speak and crated a written agreement with this attorney tha can be provided to the Court upon the making attorney’s death or disability. This also helps to ease the burden on a surviving spouse or children who may be dealing with the personal side of the illness or death and shouldn’t be required to take on the burden of the practice at this trying time in their lives as well.
Your PMA can help answer questions or point you to resources that can make the process less stressful. Not sure what a PMA does or if your state has a program? Check out information on Practice Management Assistance Programs including a list of all PMAs on the ABA’s LPM website here.