Unpleasant surprises are rarely fun, but for solo and small firm lawyers they can be devastating.
What would happen, for instance, if you suffered a health crisis and couldn’t work? Who would take care of your clients and cases?
What if your partner suddenly decided to retire with little advance warning and no continuity plan?
What if a storm knocked out power at your office for days, or an even bigger storm knocked down your office altogether?
In these and other scenarios, having a disaster plan could be a lifeline for you, your clients, and your families.
“If you are a solo or small firm practitioner, you may want to review what protection you have in place for yourself,” writes attorney Ruth Carter in this post for Attorney at Work. “What would happen if you could no longer work on your client cases? Do you have a designated lawyer to step in and take over your work? Do they know how to get access to your files? Are your office and files organized enough that someone could step in and take over?”
Carter says she realized the necessity of disaster planning when she had an auto accident that left her unable to work.
“As a lawyer, my brain is my moneymaker,” she writes. “At the very minimum, I need to be able to think and communicate. It is my most important professional asset, and this accident put it at risk. The accident made me mentally review whether I’ve taken enough precautionary measures in case something like this happens again, but worse.”
Read “Accidents Happen: What Precautionary Measures Do you Have in Place for Your Law Practice?” in Attorney at Work here.
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Designating a Successor Attorney
In many states, solo lawyers are required – by their State Bar, malpractice insurer, or both – to identify someone who can take over their practice in the event of an emergency. But this is just the first step in disaster planning.
“When I was a solo practitioner, I had to designate another lawyer who would take over my cases if I could no longer do so,” Carter writes. “But I don’t think I gave it much more thought than that. I did not consider keeping a list of active clients or putting a copy of the password to my files in a place where they could obtain it if needed. When doing your contingency plan, consider what access another lawyer would need in order to step into your shoes, particularly if you were incapacitated.”
Creating a Succession Plan
It’s never too soon to come up with a plan of succession for your practice.
“Planning for retirement, developing a succession plan for your law firm, or transitioning ownership to the next generation law firm owner puts you in control of your future,” says Camille Stell, a law firm succession planner and CEO of Lawyers Mutual Consulting and Services. “Succession doesn’t mean you have to stop work today.”
The Importance of Disability Insurance
“You are more likely to incur an injury that requires disability insurance than to die, regardless of your age,” writes Carter. “Additionally, approximately 30 percent of people between the ages of 35 and 65 will suffer a disability for at least 90 days, and about 1in 7 can expect to become disabled for five years or more. Looking at the odds, a disability could be more financially devastating than your death.”
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