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Ed Poll
  Week of April 15, 2008

Are You in the Red Zone?

Karen Mathis, immediate past chair of the American Bar Association, focused her year on developing a new awareness for the legal profession regarding the implications of the aging population. She said recently that 400,000 lawyers will retire in the next 10 years. That's equivalent to the entire current membership of the ABA!
What will these lawyers do? Will they close their doors and start new careers? Will they sell their practices? Will they become sole or small-firm practitioners because their current firm has a mandatory retirement age, some as young as 62 years old? Will they be "warehoused" and merely wait to die?
Transitioning out of a legal practice is, above all, an issue of planning. Failure to plan for how clients will be taken care of as a lawyer approaches the age of retirement can, according to some authorities, be construed as reckless disregard for client welfare—a true ethical violation. If the practice is not sold or closed, the best alternative is grooming a successor by hiring an associate to learn the practice, or by merging with or hiring a lateral lawyer with the option to sell the practice to him or her.
Ideally, the succession plan can be structured over a period of up to five years, as client responsibilities gradually transition to the new lawyer. These five years can be seen as the "red zone" of your career—the area right before you reach the goal line of retirement. During this period, you can identify a successor, have ongoing conversations with key clients about the upcoming transition, forge new ties between your successor and both current and new contacts at the client, and ensure that the new lawyer is completely up to speed on what the client needs and expects.
If you're in the career "red zone" today, what are you doing to prepare yourself so that you can score a touchdown and spend the final years of your life enjoying the fruits of your labor as you choose?
Best wishes,
Ed Poll

Ed Poll

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