An Invitation to the Dance: Overcoming Inertia with Succession Planning

by Barb Cashman on March 25, 2013

What is inertia anyway?

I’m writing a series on this cheery topic so that we can continue the conversation about the important questions raised in the “Death of a Solo, Death of a Practice” CLE I presented in February.  I told a couple jokes about death and dying at the CLE … and got some laughs.  So, yes, I’ll be looking for YouTube videos and silly cartoons and pictures to insert in the posts.  On that topic of songs about death, I was in high school about the time Blue Oyster Cult came out with “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” but I have to say I much prefer Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe”  because I think some of the lyrics aren’t just about mortality but about love and how it figures into the meaning of our present existence (also known as life).

So if you have any ideas you want to see me cover, as always please share them in the comments!

OK, enough introduction already, let’s cut to the chase! I’ve blogged about overcoming inertia in solo attorney succession planning already, but I decided to work on this series and post it at Solo in Colo because it impacts all Colorado solos.

So where to start? Step one is overcoming inertia, procrastination, and getting off the dime.  Consider the questions “What happens if?” and “What happens when?” as your first step.  Many of us don’t like to examine our mortality or our vulnerability, but they are integral parts of our lives, regardless of whether we choose to recognize them.

The sheer number of baby boomer lawyers (many of whom have not yet retired nor are intending to retire anytime soon) is on its own a cause for concern.  Couple that demographic with our culture’s preference for youth glorification and death denial and you have a pretty scary mix.

Scary for who, you might wonder?  Scary for the lawyers who don’t have any plan in place. The consequences can be huge and potentially devastating for surviving family members. So I’ll use the title of a 2009 ABA Law Practice Today article and ask: When you go to heaven, will your practice go to hell?

Based on my questions put to the large number of colleagues who attended the Death of a Solo CLE last month — and not all of them were baby boomers, we had a few Gen Xers and others sprinkled in — the jury is still out!  Many of us know that this is something we need to do — but where to start, and how to get started?

This process can be overwhelming, and it’s not like there is a simple plan or system to put in place, right?  There just might be something fairly simple that a solo can do. Get started with reading some documents.

Begin with this handbook from the Colorado Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel. It is primarily concerned with closing a practice as a consequence of death.  Several other state bars have come up with similar resources:  the Indiana Bar Association has information on the  “Surrogate Attorney” and the Iowa Supreme Court’s Office of Professional Regulation has a “Succession Planning Handbook for Iowa Lawyers.” If you’re looking for disability documents and about drawing the “treasure map” to your office systems, well I’ll be writing about those in the future.

What can you be doing now?  Well, I’m not implying that my posts will be part of a 12-step program, but awareness IS the first step. You might want to think about identifying another attorney you trust to be your “assisting attorney.” Yes, that’s a term of art; more on that later.

So what’s next — after overcoming inertia? Well, to borrow a lyric from an old Rolling Stones song … you got to move.  We are going to be learning some dance steps to a partner dance — so consider yourself invited to the dance!

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