General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionMagazine

Volume 17, Number 1
January/February 2000

Closing Your Practice

Here's advice on how to plan for closing a law practice from consultants and lawyers who've been there:

  1. Tie up loose ends, suggests Hindi Greenberg, a San Francisco consultant who advises lawyers about their careers. "I've seen people walk out and say, 'I'm through,' but the problem is their cases aren't through," she says. "If they truly don't want to do anymore work, they need to find someone who can properly represent their clients."
  2. "If your constitution can stand this, once you've made the decision to go, don't look back," says Ellen Kearns, whose small Boston practice was acquired by a large firm. "So many other decisions need to be made. You've signed the papers, so go ahead and live with it."
  3. Consider selling your firm. Many lawyers don't think their small firms have much value, but most practices are salable, says Edward Poll, a law practice management consultant in Venice, California. At least 23 states now allow lawyers to sell a law practice, says Poll, who tracks such laws. "The biggest mistake lawyers make [in closing a practice] is they're walking away from money in the bank," he notes.
    Poll recalls a lawyer who recently moved from Texas to Colorado because she was tired of practicing law and wanted a complete change in lifestyle. She had planned just to walk away from her practice, but Poll persuaded her to sell the firm and helped her negotiate with a buyer. "She sold her practice for $300,000-she never believed she could get that much," Poll says.
  4. Tell your staff and clients as soon as possible. "You have a moral obligation," Poll says.
  5. If you're moving on to another job, publicize your new position by contacting local newspapers and legal publications. "That's important if you want to maintain your visibility," says Kearns, who wishes she and her new law firm had done a better job of getting the word out about her move.
  6. Don't be too hard on yourself if your practice didn't work out. "Perhaps being self-employed wasn't right for you," Greenberg says. "You need to identify what it was that didn't work in your solo practice and avoid those negatives in the future."
  7. Lawyers who are retiring should have a plan for what they'll do next. "Oftentimes, they're excited to wind down and leave the practice, but then they say, 'Now what am I going to do?'" Whether it be volunteering, playing golf, or traveling, have something to look forward to, Greenberg advises.

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