Inside Track: Death and Disability Happen: Free Handbook Helps You Protect Your Law Firm:

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  • Inside Track

    Death and Disability Happen: Free Handbook Helps You Protect Your Law Firm

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    A new handbook developed by the State Bar’s Solo, Small Firm & General Practice Section includes forms and other documents to help lawyers plan for what happens to their practices in the event of death, disability or emergency.

    Dec. 4, 2013 – More than half of Wisconsin’s lawyers are in solo or small firms, and many need guidance on law firm planning to prepare for their own death, disability, or personal emergency, according to a new handbook designed to help.

    In this video, Superior attorney Johanna Kirk explains the purpose and benefits of “After All, You are Only Human: The Solo Practitioner’s Handbook for Disability and Death,” developed by the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Solo, Small Firm & General Practice Section.

    The free resource, says Kirk, “comes out of years of seeing lawyers who are passing away and not making plans, leaving families or other attorneys in town who don’t know what to do with things like client files, furniture, or safe deposit boxes.”

    The section – with help from State Bar Practice Management Advisor Nerino Petro, State Bar Ethics Counsel Tim Pierce, and Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual Insurance Company Vice President Tom Watson – spent three years developing the handbook.

    “The primary advice is to find an outside attorney, someone you trust, someone you work with, to come in and help take over your practice,” said Kirk, who is board secretary for the Solo, Small Firm & General Practice Section.

    The book also contains documents to help authorize the outside attorney to take over the practice, with information the outside attorney will need to carry out the plan.

    Assistance must be provided by an attorney, because only attorneys can practice law and only attorneys are obligated meet the ethical rules that must be followed in dealing with client information and other issues that will come up in winding down the firm.

    What Does the Book Include?

    The book provides a basis for understanding why it’s important to make a plan, and gives members the tools and documents necessary to implement a plan.

    For instance, a will and other documents should be executed to direct management of the business if you no longer can, it explains. “Add a clause to your Will that retains the practice as an Estate asset but directs the Personal Representative to engage a specifically named attorney to either 1) sell the practice to a pre-determined attorney; or, 2) manage the practice until it can be wound up or sold,” the handbook states.

    Other necessary documents are also included, such as a general durable power of attorney form that will grant authority over personal matters, and non-durable, limited, and springing power of attorney forms granting powers to manage the law firm.

    “The handbook provides clauses for wills so that if the solo attorney dies, the personal representative has very specific instructions about who gets access to the office, the materials, the client files, what that person is authorized to do,” Kirk said. “The outside attorney can be specifically instructed to follow through with pending matters.”

    The book also includes a checklist for the outside attorney to follow, such as notifying clients and courts, performing inventory, and closing the practice. Finally, the book contains forms, clauses, sample letters, and other information that will be necessary to help the management of your personal and law firm affairs when you are absent.