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July 2018

Yes, a plan for your disability and death is a must, says solo attorney

Solo attorney K. William Gibson is a frequent speaker on effective law practice management, and is the author of an ABA-published book on the topic, “How to Build and Manage a Personal Injury Practice,” now in its third edition.

But it wasn’t until a recent flying accident put him temporarily in crutches that Gibson first began to wonder what would happen to his practice if his injuries had been much worse. What if he couldn’t serve his clients? Gibson needed a plan.

In the May/June 2018 issue of Law Practice Magazine, Gibson shares the lessons he learned in creating one.  

The first and most important step: Find another lawyer whom you trust who can step in at a moment’s notice. Called an “assisting attorney,” the lawyer might be your personal attorney; though Gibson cautions that the person should be sensitive to conflict-of-interest issues should they arise.

Whether your assisting attorney also serves as an authorized signer for your trust and law-firm bank accounts is up to you, though some choose a separate person for the role, for checks and balances purposes.

A written document should formalize the agreement with the professionals whom you select, outlining the scope of duty to you and your clients in the case of your impairment or death.  This agreement should also include the responsibilities involved in maintaining and closing the practice, as well as provide necessary detail on other critical matters, such as the parameters around access to the firm’s bank accounts.

Other tips shared by Gibson:

Get your ducks in a row. Familiarize your assisting attorney with your staff and office systems. And, ensure the necessary forms that may require the signature of your assigning attorney, such as banking ones, get signed.

Keep your house in order. Make sure your file deadlines are calendared and keep your time and billing records up to date.

Alert your clients. Include details of your arrangement in your retainer agreements so clients know that you are planning ahead.

Read Gibson’s article, “Planning Ahead for Injury or Death,” for additional advice.

Need more? The ABA offers a wealth of further guidance on this topic. A sample of these resources include:

  • “Surrogate Attorneys: Designating a Successor in Case the Unexpected Happens;” 2017; Raphael Nemes; Voice of Experience newsletter; Vol. 2, Issue 2; ABA Senior Lawyers Division.

  • “Being Prepared: A Lawyer’s Guide for Dealing with Disability or Unexpected Events;” 2008; Debra Cohen and Lloyd D. Cohen; ABA Publishing; ABA Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.

  • “Being Prepared with Law Office Emergency Planning;” 2008; Lloyd D. Cohen; Law & Trends newsletter; Vol. 4, No. 4; ABA Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.

  • Succession Planning Resources webpage, ABA Center for Professional Responsibility.

  • Planning for Lawyer Retirement, Death or Disability (ABA and national information), Client Protection Information webpage, ABA Center for Professional Responsibility.

Law Practice Magazine is a publication of the ABA Law Practice Division.

The material in all ABA publications is copyrighted and may be reprinted by permission only. Request reprint permission here.
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