Before Spreading Your Wings in Retirement, Be Sure to Spread the Word

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Chris Rock made headlines last month after his hosting of the controversy-mired 2016 Oscars, but what you might not know about Rock is that he hit another milestone recently: He turned 50 last year.

What's significant about 50? It's a time when some people start thinking about what they will do in the "afterlife" — that is, life after law.

Even if you are not yet considering retirement, you should start considering the many things you will need to do once you do make that decision. That's especially true if you plan to close your office.

You can't decide today to close your office and then actually close your office tomorrow.

The number of things you need to do before closing a practice is immense, but today we focus on one important and perhaps overlooked aspect of closing: communications.

Your staff, colleagues and friends will be the audience for your internal communications; clients, vendors and perhaps the larger public (including the legal press) will be the audience for your external communications. In both cases, you must craft your message carefully, clearly and honestly.

1. Notifying clients

Notify clients, both present and past, that you will be closing your practice, and do it as soon as possible — preferably right after you have shared the news with your staff. You need to let your current clients know three things:

  • You are closing your practice.

  • You will refer them and their matter to three qualified attorneys, plus provide contact information for the local bar lawyer referral service.

  • You need to know what they want done with their files.

Inform your past clients that:

  • You are closing your practice.

  • You want them to pick up their files within 30 days.

  • You will destroy their files if they do not pick up the documents or otherwise make arrangements to retrieve the files within a requisite period of time. Check the rules and regulations in your local jurisdiction to determine what guidelines the bar has for file destruction.

Be sure to send these notices by certified mail, return receipt requested.

2. Notifying other parties

Your next task is to notify others that you deal with, such as banks, trustees handling clients' trust accounts, insurance carriers, bar associations and suppliers. There are a number of other potential parties that should be included in your notification procedures as well.

For example, you will want to notify opposing counsel, courts, law schools, appropriate taxing authorities, publication providers, Internet listing services, retirees and COBRA participants, utility companies and the post office. Letting these entities know about the closing of your office, each at the appropriate time, will add many items to your timeline.

3. Notifying media

You also may want to prepare a basic news release and send it to the legal press in your geographic area. A release is a good way to get the word out to all of your colleagues, friends and others in the legal community. And if you word it appropriately, you might derive other benefits as well: Perhaps your years of hard work will be rewarded with a nice feature article about your life in the law.

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