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Choosing Your Dance Partner: How to ‘Lawyer up’ with Your Assisting Attorney

by Barb Cashman on April 8, 2013

First, we start with the dancing alone (OK, I really wanted to get some get some tap dancing footage in here, and YouTube didn’t disappoint).  When I last saw Savion Glover in Boulder, he was tapping to classical music.  Here’s a fairly old clip, but it’s classic Savion. I love watching this guy tap.  Yep, these are moves you can execute in an elevator.  Yes, there’s the footwear detail.  Did I mention tap dancing is good stress relief?  Oh yeah, and you don’t need a partner!  But wait — these posts are about finding a partner aren’t they?!

It occurs to me that some of you might still be wondering — why should I bother?  One of my slides at the Death of a Solo CLE was about the lawyer’s fiduciary duty to clients. Ask yourself:

  • Is an interruption in your law practice a breach of fiduciary duty (inability to fulfill valid contractual obligations to the client)?
  • Will it be a short-term or long-term disability?  How/when will you know?
  • Could you consider some planning as if you might be an “Affected Attorney”?
  • Wouldn’t you rather select your “Assisting Attorney”?

You might be wondering, what is an “affected attorney” and who is an “assisting attorney”? I could say they are the dance partners I’m describing in this series of posts!  OK, seriously Barb, what does the “Restatement 3d of the Law Governing Lawyers §16, A Lawyer’s Duties to a Client – In General” actually have to say?

To the extent consistent with the lawyer’s other legal duties and subject to the other provisions of this restatement, a lawyer must, in matters within the scope of the representation:

  1. Proceed in a manner reasonably calculated to advance a client’s lawful objectives, as defined by the client after consultation;
  2. Act with reasonable competence and diligence;
  3. Comply with obligations concerning the client’s confidences and property, avoid impermissible conflicting interests, deal honestly with the client, and not employ advantages arising from the client-lawyer relationship in a manner adverse to the client; and
  4. Fulfill valid contractual obligations to the client.

Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it?  We solos might actually need to get by with a little help from our friends (er, colleagues as it were).

I may be going out on a limb here, but I’ve heard from others who share my feelings — I couldn’t be a solo all by myself. What I mean is that I rely on colleagues for information, advice, how-tos, and a boatload of other stuff.  In my mind, I couldn’t make it as a solo in my practice area without many wonderful trusts and estates and elder law colleagues who are willing to offer support.

Part of this whole exercise is identifying who is your “posse,” your safety net, your brain trust or kitchen cabinet.  Start with a few folks and then it’s easier to narrow down to one or two people that you can enter into a backscratching-type agreement with. You need the affiliation, mutual respect, and trust first.  Then, you can work on getting the documents together.  Or work on them at the same time, I don’t really have an opinion about it — whatever works best for you!  It doesn’t necessarily have to be someone who you will “follow into the dark.” It may not be someone you’re too close to, but trust and respect are essential.

See the first part of this series on attorney succession planning here.

Photo by Claudia Crane.

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