A Solo Needs a Deputy

By Karen Erger

In the classic western High Noon, Marshal Will Kane, unable to recruit any deputies, faces a deadly noontime showdown against Frank Miller’s outlaw gang. At two minutes before noon, he drafts a will and places it in a sealed envelope marked “To be opened in the event of my death.”

We lawyers rarely have advance notice of a “showdown” with death, disability, or other accident that prevents us from practicing law. Now, before trouble rides into town, is the time to recruit your “deputy”—your backup lawyer—and to take a few steps to help him or her cover you.

Obtain Client Consent

  • Your engagement letters should state that you have the right to designate a backup lawyer in the event of your death, disability, or other inability to act on the client’s behalf, and the right to give the backup lawyer information reasonably necessary to protect the client’s interests.
  • Draft a letter to be sent to clients when the backup begins to act for you.

Help Your Backup Help You

  • Create or update your office procedures manual.
  • Organize and document your client files so that each matter’s history and “next steps” are easy to understand. Include contact information for all of the parties involved.

Choose a Backup Who Is . . .

  • Experienced in handling the types of legal matters you take on.
  • Likely to be available when needed.
  • Covered by professional liability insurance with limits and deductible similar to your own.
  • Someone you trust and have a good gut feeling about.

Draft an Agreement, Signed by Both Parties, Addressing . . .

  • Scope and limitations of the backup’s authority.
  • Procedures to be followed if backup is needed.
  • Compensation.
  • Confidentiality.

Orient Your Backup

  • Review the location and organizational scheme for paper and electronic files.
  • Review the docketing system.
  • Provide needed passwords.
  • Introduce backup to staff; provide contact information.
  • Give the backup keys to your office—and a tin star.

Karen Erger is with Holmes Murphy & Associates in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She can be reached at .

Copyright 2006

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