Building Transition into Long-Term Succession Plans

As the year gets to its mid-point, I often get questions related to retirement from senior-level attorneys.  The story is pretty typical. They want to slow down, relieve some of the demands of their practice, but still keep their clients happy and well cared for.  Perhaps most importantly, they want their clients to stay with their firms. Many firms do not have a formal succession plan in place, and so this becomes a stressful, complicated situation that doesn’t have a cookie cutter resolution. In fact, each transitioning senior-level attorney find that they have much to consider in this process.  Worries such as timing, which attorneys can live up to your service standards and what will compensation look like. After a lifetime of supporting clients, these worries weigh heavy on them.

Much like developing business, transitioning business needs to be very personalized. Here are a few steps to get started.

  • Each senior-level attorney should study their contacts and referral sources to identify who needs immediate attention and who can be addressed a little later.
  • Once the contacts are prioritized, consider each client’s or referral source’s personality, style, needs and goals.
  • Consider which mid-level or junior attorneys within your firm best compliment each client and referral source.
  • Personally connect the mid-level or junior attorneys to the selected clients and referral sources, making sure to communicate that this attorney is personally selected for their legal team.
  • Following the introduction, senior attorneys can begin weaving the younger attorneys’ service into each interaction.
  • Over time, the senior attorney should do less and less legal work for the client, but still maintain the relationship to ensure the transition is completed smoothly and that trust is transferred to the younger attorney.
  • The younger attorney must take the time to get to know the client ‘off the clock’ to build trust, understand their needs and develop a service-focused relationship.

Succession planning should happen over a long period of time. Thoughtful communication of your plans, as well as well-planned timing for making introductions should be considered as well so that you don’t make a sweeping announcement and open the door for your contacts to ‘shop’.  Help them solve this last issue by being proactive, resourceful and thorough. The result will be happy clients and referral sources and a better chance the firm will retain the business you worked so hard to get in the first place.

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