CLE review of ‘Winding Down: A Primer for the Retiring Attorney and Disaster Planning for Younger and Solo Practitioners’

The title of this seminar should have been “Winding Down a Practice: A Primer for All Attorneys” or “Selling a Practice and Disaster Planning for All Attorneys.” The given title was a misnomer because it gave the impression that the CLE program was aimed at only those individuals who are close to retirement. This was not the case. I was surprised at how few young and middle-aged persons were in the audience, especially sole practitioners who comprise a large portion of our membership. Perhaps the title had something to do with it? Bottom line: This seminar had a much broader application than only retirement-minded practitioners.

What would happen if you stopped practicing law tomorrow? That is, through no fault of your own (e.g., an unforeseen health crisis). Think about it. Kind of scary, huh?

• Who would notify your clients about what happened?
• What would your malpractice insurance cover – or not cover?
• When would your clients be notified?
• Where would your files and trust account funds go?
• How do you sell a law practice?
• Why should you develop a plan to sell your practice or have someone succeed you?

These were several of the questions that were asked and answered during the CLE program.
A disability could strike any of us at any time. It is irresponsible to think otherwise. “Time devoted to planning for unfortunate circumstances will bring peace of mind to sole practitioners and will be enormously helpful to family and friends attempting to close a law office under difficult conditions” said John T. Phipps, one of the afternoon’s presenters.

At first, I thought the original title of the seminar sounded as dry as the Sahara and as exciting as watching water boil but, if you look at the “revised” title in an immediate context, it grabs your attention. The program, however, was neither dry nor boring. The CLE program was jam-packed with words of wisdom from experts, cites to related legal authorities and sites on the web for helpful forms. If you were unable to attend the program in person, or via webcast, you may still benefit from the program and the materials by accessing the ISBA’s free on demand CLE programs at https://www.isba.org/cle/ondemand.

The program began with John Cesario, senior counsel for the administrator of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, who disclosed that the Illinois legal profession is aging, explained how to create a succession plan and identified best practices to avoid receiving an ARDC complaint.

Jeffrey B. Strand, president and CEO of ISBA Mutual Insurance, led the second session by demonstrating the differences between a “term” policy and an “occurrence” policy and how “tail coverage” (or extending the reporting period for a claim) is critical to a law practice.

David Holterman, the associate director and general counsel of the Lawyers Trust Fund, presented the third session which dealt with trust account issues and how complicated things can become when there is an unexpected death or incapacity. He provided answers to a variety of questions and disclosed how advance planning can avoid many of the pitfalls experienced by other practitioners.

Leonard Amari, firm founder and co-managing partner at Amari & Locallo (and a former ISBA president), discussed tangential relationships with firms—such as co-counsel, of counsel, referring attorney, tenant, etc.—for those instances when someone would prefer “winding down” from the practice of law, rather than an abrupt shutting down.

The final session included John R. Cesario (who did the first session and is from the ARDC), John H. Maville from the Law Offices of John H. Maville in Belvidere, and John T. Phipps from the John T. Phipps Law Office in Champaign. The panel shared words of wisdom regarding selling a practice and disaster planning under proposed Supreme Court Rule 781, the designated representative/succession rule. The ISBA Special Committee on Succession and Transition Planning drafted the proposed rule and all three of the panelists served on that Committee. The proposed rule requires that all licensed attorneys who are engaged in the private practice of law in Illinois designate a representative on their Annual ARDC Registration or certify that they have made such a designation in a valid succession plan or other document.

In light of the foregoing, I recommend that all private practitioners review the proposed Supreme Court Rule 781 along with the related materials. Visit the web page created by the ISBA Special Committee at https://www.isba.org/committees/successionandtransitionplanning for articles, CLE programs, and sample documents and/or view the recording of the half-day seminar that took place on April 11, 2019, at the CRO https://www.isba.org/cle. The latter suggestion is probably the most efficient method of examining these issues no matter what we call them.

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May 2019Volume 10Number 4PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)