Closing a Practice
Closing your office takes careful planning for a seamless transition. Lawyers close offices for many reasons: retirement, merging firms, disability, extended maternity leave, or maybe an appointment to the bench. Though all different scenarios, similar tasks are needed to close an office efficiently and with no harm to the client.
Consider the following suggestions when closing your office:
1. Finalize as many files as possible: If you have a target closing date, work toward closing as many files as possible. If you do not have a target date, establish a back up plan of having someone who can help transition files in the event of a sudden disability or illness. With or without a target closing date, keep files up to date, including client contacts, correspondence and pleadings.
2. Write to clients with active files, advising them that you are unable to continue representing them and that they need to retain new counsel. Be sure to advise your clients of any time limitations, prescriptive dates and time frames important to their cases. The letter should explain how and where they can pick up copies of their files and should give a time deadline for doing this.
3. For cases with pending court dates, depositions, or hearings, discuss with the clients how to proceed. Where appropriate, request extensions, continuances, and the resetting of hearing dates. Send written confirmations of the extensions, continuances, and resets to opposing counsel and to your client.
4. For cases before administrative bodies and courts, obtain the client's permission to submit a motion an order to withdraw as attorney of record.
5. In cases where the client has chosen a new attorney, be certain that a motion to enroll to substitute counsel has been filed and you have appropriately withdrawn as counsel.
6. Pick an appropriate date and check to see if all cases either have a Motion and Order allowing your withdrawal as counsel or a Substitution of Counsel filed with the court.
7. Make copies of files for clients. Retain your original files. All clients should either pick up their files (and sign a receipt acknowledging that they received them) or sign an authorization for you to release the files to their new attorneys. If a client is picking up a file, original documents should be returned to the client and copies should be kept in your file.
8. All clients should be told where their closed files will be stored and whom they should contact in order to retrieve them. While there is no set time frame for the retention of files, five years is a good best practice. If a closed file is to be stored by another attorney, get the client's permission to allow the attorney to store the file for you and provide the client with the attorney's name, address and phone number.
9. If you are a sole practitioner, ask the telephone company for a new phone number to be given out when your old number is called. If you have a website, inform viewers that you office is closing (and a date if you have it) and any new contact information that you would want to give. This eliminates the problem created when clients call your phone number, get a recording stating that the number is disconnected, and do not know where else to turn for information.
10. Call the Louisiana State Bar Association and update your status and contact information.
11. Review the LSBA PUBLIC Opinion 05-RPCC-001 Lawyer Retirement - Ethical Requirements to Client.
Re: Lawyer Transferred to Disability Inactive Status, or Who Has Disappeared or Has Died, or Has Been Suspended or Disbarred:
Pursuant to Supreme Court Rule XIX, Rules for Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement, Section 27 (a), if a lawyer "has been transferred to disability inactive status, or has disappeared or died, or has been suspended or disbarred and there is evidence that he or she has not complied with Section 26, and no partner, executor or other responsible party capable of conducting the respondent's affairs is known to exist, the presiding judge in the judicial district in which the respondent maintained a practice or a lawyer member of the disciplinary board should the presiding judge be unavailable, upon proper proof of the fact, shall appoint a lawyer or lawyers to inventory the files of the respondent, and to take such action as seems indicated to protect the interests of the respondent and his or her clients." [Amended effective September 16, 2005].
Rule XIX, Section 27 (b) provides that "[a]ny lawyer so appointed shall not be permitted to disclose any information contained in any files inventoried without the consent of the client to whom the file relates, except as necessary to carry out the order of the court which appointed the lawyer to make the inventory." Further a copy of the executed agreement shall be forwarded to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel within thirty (30) days of its execution. A Court-approved overdraft notification agreement that attorneys and federally-insured financial institutions and their affiliates shall utilize is included as Appendix F to these rules. [Enacted effective April 15, 2006; Amended effective September 27, 2006].**
Go here to see Rule XIX in its entirety.
LSBA's Lending Library:
The LSBA's Lending Library has the following titles for borrowing on retirement and closing your office; these titles are among hundreds of other titles which are useful to running of a law office and career (see the Lending Library webpage to borrow any of these titles):
#177 Flying Solo: A Survival Guide for the Solo and Small Firm Lawyer (4th Ed. 2005), K. William Gibson, Editor
#227 Flying Solo: A Survival Guide for the Solo and Small Firm Lawyer (5th Ed. 2014), K. William Gibson, Editor
#113 Lawyers at Midlife: Laying the Groundwork for the Road Ahead (2009), Michael Long, John Clyde & Pat Funk 978-0-940675-60-5
#75 The Lawyer's Guide To Buying, Selling, Merging, And Closing A Law Practice (2008), Sarina A. Butler & Richard G. Paszkiet , Editors 1-59031-932-x
#230 Life After Law: What Will You Do with the Next 6,000 Days? (2013), Edward Poll
Other resources you might consider:
1. James E. Brill, Considerations When Closing Your Law Practice, 76 Texas Bar J. 2 (Feb. 2013).
2. Peter A. Giuliani, Passing the Torch without Getting Burned: A Guide to Law Firm Retirement and Succession Planning, American Bar Association (2013).
Online Internet Resources and Guidance:
1. Washington State Bar Association: Visit its webpage, Closing a Law Practice for materials, forms, and an hour long video entitled Exiting Your Practice.
2. Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission: Read its publication Basic Steps to Ethically Closing a Law Practice
3. American Bar Association Law Practice Magazine, May/June 2011 (Vol. 37, No.3): For additional guidance, Closing a Solo Practice: An Exit To-Do List by Sheila M. Blackford and Peter Roberts.
4. New York State Bar Association's Planning Ahead Guide: This free, downloadable guide outlines steps a lawyer must take to protect his or her clients in the event of a sudden inability to continue in practice. Created in 2005, the guide assists attorneys in establishing an advance exist plan in the event of disability, retirement or death.
5. New Mexico Bar Association's Succession Planning Handbook for New Mexico Lawyers: Also downloadable and free, this 168 pp handbook was published in July 2014.
6. State Bar of Michigan: On a dedicated webpage is this bar's Planning Ahead: A Guide to Protecting Your Clients' Interests in the Event of Your Disability or Death which contains extensive checklists, forms, and letters to aid in the transition.
7. South Carolina State Bar Association: Its resource, Lawyers in Transition, also offers a variety of forms and checklists.