I am a solo practitioner in an estate planning firm in Carbondale, Illinois. I am the only attorney in the firm. I have one legal assistant that has worked for me for ten years. I am 72 years old. I suppose it has always been my goal to practice forever as I have been in denial about my age. I have done nothing concerning the eventual transition of my practice and I don't even have anything in place in the event that I would become ill and out of the office due to illness. I am beginning to have more and more health problems and as a result I am coming to the realization that I must address the transition of my practice. Please share your thoughts.
Age denial is a common problem that I see with senior attorneys that are continuing to practice into their 70s and 80s. They often tell me - "I want to practice forever." However, eventually the clock catches up with them and often they have not prepared for the transition of the practice. Waiting too long can have the following consequences:
- Reduced mental and physical competencies resulting in substandard services rendered to clients.
- Stress of the practice as a result of having no one available to cover the practice.
- Inability to take an extended vacation or time away from the practice.
- Inability to explore other outside interests, hobbies, etc.
- No coverage or "back-up plan" - practice continuation plan if you will in the event that you become ill.
- Risk of loss of control over the future of your practice - clients - employees - exit value in the event that you become incapable of adequately serving your clients and Illinois Supreme Court Rule 7.76 is invoked whereby the court takes over your practice and a appoints a temporary receiver, clients are notified, arrangements are made, and files are assigned out to various attorneys.
You need to get started on finding someone that can eventually take over your practice even if you eventually just close your doors. You still have client files and records, clients that will need ongoing or future representation, and an employee that may need a job.
You may want to start with an Of Counsel arrangement with another attorney and put in place an Of Counsel - or Practice Continuation Agreement - whereby you each agree to cover each other practices in the event of illness or vacation.
A practice continuation arrangement is an arrangement – typically in the form of an agreement or contract - made between an individual lawyer or a small law firm and another lawyer or law firm. The arrangement describes a course of action to transfer a lawyer’s practice and sets payment for its value. In the event of vacation, temporary or permanent disability, or death, a practice continuation arrangement protects the practice, the business interests of the lawyer or law firm’s clients and the financial interest of the lawyer and his or her family. There are different kinds of practice continuation arrangements. Typically a lawyer enters into a one-on-one agreement with another sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company, or professional corporation in the community. Agreements can range from simple “dual coverage for each other” for vacation or other temporary absences to sale of the practice in the event of long term disability or death.
While your initial need may be a practice continuation arrangement in the event of illness or vacation - you should also begin looking for someone that you can transition your firm to in the long run as well via practice sale, Of Counsel relationship with another firm, merger, etc.
Good luck on your journey!
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC