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Learn the Steps: Don’t Get Overwhelmed with Options for Succession Planning

by Barb Cashman on May 15, 2013

What’s on your buffet tray?  In the last installment of this series, Amy Symons and Julie Davis urged us to “face the music and make a plan.”  The two solos explained how they have put together documentation systems for their own and for their mutual benefit in the event one has to step in for the other.

No, I haven’t departed from my dance theme — but what gives with the dance theme and the buffet table? Well, there are many options to choose from among your planning documents, a bit like a smorgasbord.  You are in the best position to determine which documents or arrangement will work for you and your practice. Check out this flash mob at a dining hall. The song is Blue October’s “Life’s Like a Jump Rope” (refrain is up, down, up, down …), which I thought went nicely with our theme of planning for uncertainty.

OK, enough about food and buffets, let’s get back to our dance theme.  I can hear you now. You’re saying, “I’m new to this dance; can you show me the steps?”  Let’s take a look at some of the elements of a plan for a solo attorney to manage disability or death. This is the basic overview of the “steps”  to execute that dance we talked about previously.  You might worriedly ask, “What happens if I don’t do it correctly?” and maybe also, “How do I know what I am preparing will work?”  These are all good questions, but they shouldn’t stop you from taking the steps and getting prepared.  What’s the worst thing that could happen?

Here are some steps to consider using in your repertoire:

  • An engagement letter clause addressing disaster, disability and death
  • A Memorandum of Understanding or  Letter of Understanding with an assisting attorney about what to look for and where to find it and how the assisting attorney will work for the affected attorney
  • Tailoring your firm’s succession plan with your own personal estate plan to ensure they cooperate
  • Making sure your disability documents will allow your short-term disability to not decimate your years of building up your own law practice so that you have a book of business to which to return
  • Making sure that office staff is on board with — but is not the sole standard bearer of — the attorney’s succession plan
  • Even if you have disability insurance, you still need a continuation of practice plan that is in place before you need it (assess needs for staffing in an emergency situation)
  • Keep in mind that a large percentage of long-term disability starts out as short-term disability, so prepare for both
  • The MoU or LoU with the assisting attorney should have enough detailed instructions about the difference between short-term and long-term disability, and ensure such plans will meet ethical obligation and protect your clients
  • Have you thought about a buyout agreement?
  • Have you thought about bringing in a younger associate who could perhaps be in a position to manage or take over the practice?
  • Yes, and what about retiring — what will that look like for you?

So, let’s get dancing!  I love her green tap shoes!  In the meantime, remove your head from the sand, and get cracking on the “what ifs” of your solo and small firm practice.  Start with learning those partner steps that Amy and Julie outlined and be sure to incorporate them into you individual practice with a trusted colleague.

Follow this series and see previous articles about solo attorney succession planning here.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons by Jbird905.

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