June 08, 2015 Practice Points

Solo Practitioners Need a Break, Too!

By Emily J. Kirk

In the article "Who Will Take Care of Your Clients When You Can't," author Susan Cartier Liebel addresses a common concern for solo practitioners: how to get away on a summer vacation or other extended absence without compromising client service or losing clients altogether. This is a very legitimate and real concern for solo practitioners—and failing to "get away" is not always a viable answer for the long term.

When solo practitioners are away from the office, client needs must still be met. While it may be fairly simple to inform opposing counsel of your absence or to reschedule court appearances, issues may still arise in your absence and clients want to know who to turn to when they do. Accordingly, Liebel recommends building a network with other solo and small firm attorneys who are willing to cover for you in your absence. Liebel also recommends establishing this network far in advance of any scheduled absence so that incoming clients are advised at intake that there will always be an attorney available if you are away. Having this type of coverage will give you—and the client—peace of mind from the beginning of the relationship.

Although you likely have a casual network of attorneys that you could turn to in an emergency, Liebel recommends taking steps to formalize the relationship with any attorney that you may regularly rely on to cover for you in an absence. She suggests having a written agreement with the lawyer regarding handling your clients, including any payment of fees for coverage and/or permanent transfer of files, if needed, depending on the length of the absence.

Leibel acknowledges that coverage networks may not protect solo practitioners from losing business 100 percent of the time. But, as Liebel points out, having a formalized network of attorneys on whom you can call during times of absence should generally ensure that your clients' needs are met while allowing you to address needs outside the office (vacation or otherwise).

Keywords: solo and small firm, litigation, solo practitioner, vacation, small firm network, formal agreement

Emily J. Kirk is with Thompson Coburn LLP in St. Louis, Missouri.

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