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Best Practice: Creating a transition plan for retiring partners

Asked and Answered

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

Q. Our firm is a 25-lawyer firm with 10 partners. Six of these partners are in their 60s. What should we be doing concerning planning the succession of these partners?

A. In a larger firm with multiple partners, shareholders, or members, succession and transition involves transitioning client relationships and management roles. Such transitions take time. Many larger firms have five-year phase down retirements for this reason and require equity owners to properly transition clients and management responsibilities. Some firms tie retirement pay or compensation to completing a successful transition program.

A plan might include the following: 

  • The Transition Partner becomes a Transition Partner as of the commencement of the phase down and begins client and management transition at that time and ending on his/her retirement date, at which time he/she retires and withdraws from the partnership. Compensation of the Transitioning Partner is proportionately reduced by the amount of reduction in the Transitioning Partner’s present work schedule.
  • Transitioning Partner is responsible for the collection of his/her accounts receivable and billing of his/her Work-in-Process throughout the entire transition phase unless delegated to his/her Co-Responsible Partners.
  • Transitioning Partner’s purchase price (payout) is to be calculated immediately prior to the beginning of the transition period and in the same time and in the same manner in accordance with the Firm Partnership Agreement, and will be paid only upon the completion of the transition period.

Some firms are providing economic incentives for the transitioning partner to hand off work to others.

The internal succession/transition plan provides a mechanism for the firm to outline a general timeline for a senior partner’s retirement, a process to effect an orderly transition of clients and management responsibilities, and a vehicle for starting initial discussions.

Click here for our blog on succession

Click here for out articles on various management topics

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 September 14, 2016 by Chris Bonjean
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