General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionMagazine

Volume 17, Number 1
January/February 2000

The Horizons Beyond

jennifer j. rose

Welcome to the century's very first issue of GPSolo! The magazine you used to know as GP Solo & Small Firm Lawyer has changed its name, and this time it's for good. Or at least the next hundred years or so.

More than simply old wine in a new bottle, GPSolo is expanded, improved, and even better than ever before. Your picture may never appear on the cover of ABA Journal, you may never be included among Forbes' 400 richest people on the face of the earth, and you may never be named Time magazine's Person of the Year, but your very own name will appear on the cover of every single issue of GPSolo that's delivered to your mailbox. Eight times a year.

Don't think for one minute that GPSolo's only for solo practitioners. Or that it's only for general practitioners. Our readership ranges from solo and small firm practitioners to lawyers practicing in mega-firms, from lawyers representing elite clients as well as the plain and ordinary, lawyers working for the government, judges, and even law professors and students. And plenty of folks in between. Rich lawyers and poor lawyers. A-V rated ones and the unrated. Lawyers practicing in venues from Dimebox, Texas, to New York City.

Sunsetting a practice couldn't be a more appropriate topic for the millennium. There's a wealth of literature and lip service given to starting up a practice and to marketing and expanding a practice. But what about when a lawyer dies, retires, ascends to the bench, combines with another firm, gets a better offer elsewhere, or simply up and quits? It's bound to happen to all of us sooner or later, and the truth is that more of us are closer to changing our practices in one way or another than starting anew. All that time, money, and energy that went into nurturing a practice demands some kind of aftercare.

It's more than simply asking the last one who leaves to turn off the lights. Clients expect an ongoing relationship with a trusted lawyer to last well beyond the natural lives of both, and then there are those ethical niceties that are intended to keep everyone on the straight and narrow, playing fair. There's the business of liability for mistakes than may not appear until later. Can you sell your practice, and if so, does selling it amount to something more than tacking up a "For Sale" sign on the door? What's your practice worth, and how do you value it?

Wisconsin lawyer John Macy, reprising his Major Federal Laws (July 1998) success, took the helm again as issue editor of this issue, shaping it with his usual aplomb. Goading, coaxing, prodding, and cajoling those in his domain and beyond, he has brought together a comprehensive array of experts.

David Vandagriff, the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division's 1992 Solo Practitioner of the Year, is one of the many who've closed up shop to move on to different ventures. How he and others managed to make that decision is the focus of Laura Gatland's piece, "Sunsetting a Law Practice." Daniel R. Heiden eased himself out of practice, and his first-person story explains how he tackled the practical, ethical, and legal problems to gracefully reach the stage of semi-retirement from law practice.

Don't let disputes with partners during law firm breakups endanger your clients. Kris Wenzel of the State Bar of Wisconsin explains how lawyer dispute resolution programs provide a speedy, private, and cost-effective mechanism for resolving professional and economic disputes among lawyers.

Ethics and malpractice go hand-in-hand, or more like hand-in-pocket, when it comes time to change practice styles and settings. In "The Transitioning Lawyer: How to Meet Your Ethical Obligations," Marcia Proctor charts possible routes through the rocky shoals of passing the reins on to successor counsel. Ann Massie Nelson and Melvin G. McCartney explore the three Rs-risk, resolution, and reality-of fulfilling commitments to clients in "Risk Management: Protecting Your Clients and Your Assets in Your Absence."

Is your practice worth something more than a couple of computers, a desk, and some musty old books? James D. Cotterman answers that question in "Valuation of a Law Practice." Robert Ostertag traces how ABA Model Rule 1.17 transformed the ethical landscape of solo and small firm practices throughout the nation during the past decade in "Sale of a Law Practice." Sharon Merkle discusses buy-sell agreements to protect a practice in case of death, disability, retirement, or withdrawal of an owner.

Sometimes forces beyond mere human frailties like death, disability, or the specter of greener pastures impact the orderly pursuit of the practice of law. When disaster strikes, whether it's natural or man-made, are you prepared? Michael Polelle shows how crucial a business resumption plan can be, especially if you don't plan to sunset your practice for a while.

This issue of GPSolo's not for your eyes alone. Encourage your spouse, significant other, or next of kin (whomever's going to be in charge when you aren't) to read this issue.

jennifer j. rose, editor-in-chief of GPSolo, is a lawyer and writer living in Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico. She can be reached at

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