How To Exercise Proper Due Diligence Before Closing the Doors to Your Law PracticeAlison Cave
Walking away from a law practice is not as easy as turning off the lights and locking the door. It takes a bit of planning. The more organized your office is, the simpler those steps will be. If you already have a procedure to produce a list of client names and contact information for all open files, an up-to-date calendaring system with all deadlines and follow up dates, current billing records, etc., then locking the office door will be smoother and quicker.
Here are some steps to develop an exit strategy:
- Stop accepting new cases.
- Inform you staff, as they also will need to make plans.
- Contact your long-term clients. Discuss any pending cases and their options such as new counsel, attorney fees due or refund of fees if you are not going to be able to complete work when payment has already been received from the client.
- Finalize as many active files as possible.
- Ascertain the status of client files. Each open file needs to be considered with regard to its deadlines and its fee arrangements. Remember, if the file is being either given to the client or the client’s new attorney, to stress in writing time is of the essence. Be sure and retain a copy of the file and a written acknowledgement from the client or new attorney the file has been transferred. After obtaining the client’s consent, file a motion and order to withdraw from any pending litigation.
- In cases where the client is obtaining new counsel, be certain a Substitution of Attorney is filed.
- If you have original documents from your clients, return those with a written receipt from the client.
- Reconcile trust accounts.
- Terminate your lease for your office space.
- Don’t forget to terminate equipment leases and make arrangements for the removal of these items.
- Utilities and services need to be canceled. Don’t forget your websites!
- Cancel office subscriptions and other memberships.
- Closed file storage. Make arrangements to have a place to store closed files and a procedure in place to notify clients to retrieve their files prior to any destruction of those files pursuant to your office retention policy.
- Obtain an extended reporting endorsement. Contact your professional liability carrier to discuss the options available for coverage should a claim be made after your retirement from the practice of law.
- Notify other insurance carriers regarding liability coverages.
- Consult with professional planners regarding benefits such as health, life and retirement accounts.
- Ask a CPA for advice regarding retention periods for your accounting records should the IRS need to verify income or deductions.
- At the conclusion of winding down your practice, have your office phone calls forwarded to either your personal phone or to a lawyer who is assisting with the closure of your office. You need to make sure clients will receive the proper assistance in this transition from you handling their cases and the new attorney representing your former clients.
- Contact your IT professional to assist with a decommissioning plan. Additionally, you will need to either have your office emails forwarded to your personal email account or have the ability to continue to receive your office emails so you can give the proper assistance to your former clients as they transition to their new counsel.
- Organize the disposition of furniture and other office items.
- Notify the post office.
The above list of considerations is not comprehensive, but hopefully serves as a starting point for your exit strategy. Please let us know if we can be of assistance.