The days when a lawyer joined a firm and stayed there until they grew old and retired are long gone.
Today, lawyers are mobile like never before. They retire early, retire late and retire involuntarily. They make upward moves, lateral moves and lifestyle moves. They leave for all sorts of different reasons, and that trend has been accelerated by the pandemic.
You can’t always control when and why a lawyer departs.
But you can prepare for it in advance.
A good start is “Leaving the Firm: How to Avoid a Messy Divorce” from the Alta Pro Practice Playbook. It lists key points to consider as you create a departure protocol for your firm.
The following checklist is another risk management tool. It covers some of the basics of what to do when a lawyer leaves. We hope you find it helpful.
You’ll always have help running your practice when you have professional liability insurance coverage through Alta Pro Insurance. All insureds are automatically enrolled in the Alta Pro Lawyers RPG, where they get access to the Pro Practice Playbook, Reminger Hotline, free CLE webinars, discounts on CLIO practice management software and more. Here’s how to join.
RISK MANAGEMENT CHECKLIST
Lawyer Leaving the Firm
PLAN IN ADVANCE
– Partnership agreements and Succession Plans
– A little planning on the front end can avoid problems later.
– The agreement should include provisions for departures and dissolution.
– Who owns the assets?
– Who is responsible for liabilities?
– How will clients be notified?
– Who will take over their cases?
– If you don’t have a partnership agreement/plan, there are plenty of DIY and low-cost options online. You can always beef yours up later.
– Having at least something in writing about what will happen when a lawyer leaves is better than having nothing.
– Does your firm have a Succession Plan? A component of succession planning is having an orderly process for the departure of lawyers from the firm.
COMMUNICATION WITH DEPARTING LAWYER
– Keep it professional, not personal.
– Departures – regardless of the reason – are not divorces.
– Set date on when to stop accepting new cases.
– Discuss how to access laptop, office phone, and voice mail (or answering service).
– Where is each post office or other mail service box located? How to access it?
– How to access law firm online and social media accounts: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn?
– Law Office Contact lists?
– Future Contact Info?
TAKING CARE OF THE CLIENTS
– Client-centered care always.
– Keep the client informed. Let them know what’s going on.
– Help them make wise decisions.
– Follow their instructions. This is their case, not yours.
– Document important client instructions and communications. Keep a clear and detailed record of what you’ve done in the case and when.
TRANSFERRING CASE MATTERS
– Inventory all Open Case Matters that will be affected by the Lawyer’s departure.
– Review Retainer/Engagement Agreement in each Open Case Matter.
– Where are the original case files (and client papers)?
– What is the Office Policy on keeping original client documents? Where are they kept?
– Inform staff of plans.
– Organize open cases by priority and deadlines.
– In cases with pending court dates, depositions or hearings, client communication is key.
– Discuss with the clients how to proceed. Request continuances of hearing dates if required by rules or in the client’s interest.
– In some cases that are in court, a motion and order may be required before you can withdraw as attorney of record.
– Have a system for safely transferring files to successor counsel.
– Have a system for making sure upcoming deadlines and statues of limitations are properly calendared and taken care of.
INSURANCE AND PROFESSIONAL
– Notify your insurance agents and carriers regarding your firm’s change in status.
– Your Lawyer’s Professional Liability Insurance carrier must be notified when the departure will go into effect.
– Lawyers Professional Liability policy: talk to your agent or provider about getting an Extended Reporting Endorsement (ERE), sometimes called “tail coverage.”
– Notify health, life and disability and retirement insurance carriers as needed.
– Notify your state and local bar associations. Request a change in membership status if needed.
– Passwords turned in/changed
– Password manager
– Cloud access changed
– Firm/office equipment turned in: phone, laptop, devices
– IT Professional to inventory all office and personal equipment that may contain client sensitive information and create a safety plan.
– Other IT issues unique to firm and/or departing lawyer.
– Any cases with specific IT-related concerns?
– Law office bank account records (trust accounts and general accounts)
– Location of all electronically stored firm and client records. Include where to find, or who knows about, the computer passwords for email, online storage and all other web-based systems
– Client trust accounts
– Estates, POA and business accounts
– Talk to other professional, investment and financial planners as needed.