Start a Business Plan with the End in Mind

By Irene Leonard, Lawyer Coach    

Beginnings are more exciting, but a business plan for a new or growing law practice needs to include how you will end your practice as well. While a predictable retirement is an appealing conclusion, you have a duty to your clients to have plans in place to protect them in case you are suddenly unable to continue working.

A lawyer has a duty of competent representation pursuant to the Rules of Professional Conduct. See RPC 1.1, et seq. This includes making arrangements that will safeguard the client's interests (including the integrity of any trust moneys, confidentiality of information, and the continuing viability of the client's legal matter) in the event of the lawyer's death, disability, impairment, or incapacity. ABA Formal Op. 92-369. The majority of malpractice carriers require that the lawyers they insure make arrangements for the appropriate disposition of client matters in the event of the insured lawyer's death or disability.1

You'll need systems in place to efficiently and effectively manage your practice; why not design those systems from the start so that another lawyer can take over for you if necessary? There are benefits in the short term as well. Including preparation for the end of your practice will help you be more efficient now, and make it easier for you to delegate work to any new staff members or associates. They will know exactly how you want things to be done.

If you are a sole practitioner, your business plan should include the necessary contractual arrangements with the assisting attorney. Be sure to give him or her authority to step into your shoes and access your client files. Whether you're in a solo practice or you have the support of a large firm, create a road map that will enable an assisting attorney to understand how you do things.

Be sure to set up your life insurance plan so that it will pay the cost of the assisting attorney. Then, make sure your law practice procedures road map includes the details on how the attorney who takes over your practice can:

The Washington State Bar Association has issued a handbook to help you deal with the transfer of responsibility for your clients' matters in the event of a crisis in your life: Planning Ahead: A Guide to Protecting Your Clients' Interests in the Event of Your Disability or Death, available at http://www.wsba.org/lawyers/planningaheadhandbook07.17.09.pdf.

Taking these early steps to prepare your practice for the unexpected has benefits for your practice now, as well as in the future. It's worth the effort.

Irene Leonard has been a professional business coach for lawyers and other professionals for the past 12 years, after practicing law for 18 years. Leonard helps lawyers have a great law practice. She can be reached at 206-723-9900 or through her website, www.CoachingForChange.com. © 2010 Irene Leonard

The article was published in the October 2010 edition of the KCBA Bar Bulletin

1 Planning Ahead: A Guide to Protecting Your Clients' Interests in the Event of Your Disability or Death, Washington State Bar Association.