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Best Practice Tips: Hiring an Associate Attorney as a Solo’s Exit Strategy

Asked and Answered 

By John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Q.  I am a solo practitioner in central Illinois. I have been in practice for more than 30 years and I just turned 60. I have two staff members and no other attorneys in the firm other than myself. I plan on working another five years and then I would like to gradually exit from my practice and then retire. I want to have a home for my clients and employees, and I would prefer to be able to sell my interest to an associate attorney working for the firm. I think we have the work to justify hiring an associate and this is the route I would like to go. I have never had an associate, so I am not sure what I should look for. Your thoughts would be most appreciated.

A. I believe that an internal succession/exit strategy is your best option if you can find the right associate. Unlike years ago, there are many associates today who just want a job, and work-life balance is more important than taking on an ownership role in a firm. They simply are not interested in the work, stress, and risk that it takes to own and manage a law firm. So it is important when searching for an associate to vet candidates to ensure that you are hiring someone willing to buy out your interest when you retire and take over your practice.

I have worked with a lot of firms that think they have an exit plan via an associate, only to be told no when approached with a proposal to acquire their practice.  When you interview candidates, look into their history and their family history to see if you can find a hint of entrepreneurship. You may want to hire a more seasoned attorney who has a small practice. That person could expand his or her practice by becoming part of your practice. Hire someone who has an interest in the business of law as well as practicing law.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC, ( is a past chair and member of the ISBA Standing Committee on Law Office Management and Economics and author of The Lawyers Guide to Succession Planning published by the ABA. For more information on law office management please direct questions to the ISBA listserver, which John and other committee members review, or view archived copies of The Bottom Line Newsletters. Contact John at

Posted on December 6, 2018 by Rhys Saunders
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