The Advisory: Volume 9, Issue 1, March 2011

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A Neutral Corner

Checklists for Succession Planning

By Jocelyn Frazer, Equity Ombudsperson, Law Society of Alberta

SUCCESSION PLANNING is something that should be relevant to all lawyers in active practice, regardless of the stage that they are at in their career. All lawyers need to have a plan in place to ensure that client interests are protected in the event of their sudden illness, death, incapacity or impairment.

Essential information relating to client matters and the ongoing obligations of the practice must be able to be interpreted by an assisting lawyer regardless of whether that is a partner, associate, friend or formal custodian. For a lawyer in a small firm setting or sole practice, it is particularly important to have arrangements in place for another lawyer to step in and ensure that clients are not prejudiced, and that your staff and family are not placed in an overwhelming position.

As the age demographic of the profession shifts, the potential for more lawyers to find themselves in a position where they are forced to leave practice suddenly is also increasing. When a lawyer does make a sudden exit from practice, and there is no succession plan in place, the plan is incomplete, or no arrangements have been made relating to access to the trust account, the costs to the practice and the risks to the clients can be significant.

In addition to circumstances beyond their control, lawyers can decide to wind down their law practice for any number of reasons: change of career, pursuit of non-legal opportunities, retirement, moves to in-house counsel positions, judicial appointment, or parental leave. It is important to have a plan in place to deal with these career transitions in a systematic way and to allow sufficient time to cover the necessary steps.

Where the exit plan includes the sale of a law practice, prior planning can greatly impact the value that stands to be realized. Good practice management over the life of a practice (or at least the last five years) will go a long way toward creating an asset that someone is willing to purchase. There are both ethical and financial considerations that affect the sale of a practice and ultimately there is a great range in the values that are placed on these.

The Law Society of Alberta has posted several checklists and resources on its website as a starting point in developing a succession strategy for a law practice. Resources on the website at include:

  • Checklist: Planning for the Unexpected,
  • Checklist: Selling your Law Practice,
  • Checklist: Closing Down your Law Practice, and
  • Resources for Lawyers Planning to Retire.

For more information, or to discuss other issues, please contact Jocelyn Frazer at 403- 229-4769 or toll-free at 1-888-229-4769.

Sole Practitioners and Small Firm Lawyers Invited to join SoloNet

To enable sole practitioners and lawyers in remote locations to connect and share information, an online network is being launched as a pilot project.

Jocelyn Frazer, the Equity Ombudsperson, is offering SoloNet to lawyers independently of the Law Society of Alberta. SoloNet is a forum for lawyers who are sole practitioners or lawyers working in remote locations in the province of Alberta.

SoloNet offers an opportunity for practitioners to pose questions, offer advice, and share information about their experiences. Discussion group participants determine the topics for discussion. The contents of the network are confidential to the participants in SoloNet.

“It it intended to provide solo practitioners with practice advice, fraud tips, risk assessment advice, and other resources, as well as a forum to discuss the issues they face on a daily basis,” described Jocelyn Frazer, Equity Ombudsperson.

“There is a need for an online network for lawyers working as sole practitioners or in remote locations of the province. SoloNet is a channel for two-way dialogue for sharing experiences, problems, ideas, etc.”

It is currently operating as a pilot project and is being moderated by the Equity Ombudsperson. The Law Society of Alberta only provides the online facilities for SoloNet.

Sole practitioners or lawyers in remote locations in the province are invited to join SoloNet. To participate, please send an email message to the Office of the Equity Ombudsperson or call toll free 1-888-229-4769.

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