General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm Division
What to Expect of the "Quasi-partner"
By Demetrios Dimitriou
When faced with an unexpected emergency or extended leave, to whom do you turn to "take care of business"-to meet your clients' needs in a manner consistent with your professional responsibilities? (Assuming, of course, that your electronic-anytime, anyplace, anywhere-office isn't an alternative.)
Enter "quasi-partners." Who are they and how do they solve your dilemma? They are your alter ego. Every solo should find one one or more lawyers who are similarly situated and in whom you have faith, both professionally and personally, to cover your practice in the event of an emergency or even a long vacation. In fact, many malpractice insurance policies require that solos have one.
Once you've chosen the individual, consider entering into a reciprocal agreement to cover each other's practice when the need arises. Among the items the agreement should spell out are the following:
- the extent and scope of the quasi-partner's professional responsibility;
- responsibility for overhead expenses incurred in rendering services;
- the scope of client services to be provided;
- the fee scale and billing methods;
- malpractice insurance coverage; and
- issues involving joint clients.
If there are court proceedings, then the agreement should deal with necessary pleading formalities and other requirements based upon local jurisdictional rules.
You may want to create more than one level of quasi-partner. Absence for vacations would be handled differently than an absence for a sudden illness, which might be different than a long-term disability.
When you have the agreement in place, it's wise to advise your clients-especially those with whom you have a long-standing relationship-that such an accord exists. You might even want to get the client's prior permission to open access to confidential material to the quasi-partners if and when the need arises. It not only solves the client-confidentiality issue, but may also impress your clients with your foresight and responsibility in looking after their affairs.
A final word of caution: This is not an easy matter to accomplish. But solos must be prepared for the unexpected. You should also make certain your arrangements with your quasi-partner conform to your state's ethics rules, and anticipate the needs to comply with local procedural and court rules depending on the scope of legal services being rendered for each client.
Demetrios Dimitriou is a solo in San Francisco where he is a practice management and ethics counsel to lawyers and law firms and handles other business-related matters. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.