Why is succession planning important for Ohio attorneys?
Perhaps one of the most compelling reasons to be concerned about succession planning is reflected in the demographics of the legal profession itself. Statistics compiled by the American Bar Association reflect that 34 percent of the lawyers in the United States are age 55 and older. As this generation of lawyers moves toward retirement, they will want to assure that the needs of their clients will continue to be addressed.
As the professional association of Ohio’s attorneys, the Ohio State Bar Association began looking at these issues with the Masters at the Bar Task Force. (Please see Masters at the Bar Task Force Report.)
OSBA’s online practice management tool, OfficeKeeper, provides resources on Closing, Selling or Acquiring a Law Practice. As an association, the Ohio State Bar Association recognizes this will be an issue for the profession for the foreseeable future.
Succession planning is also is also important from the perspective of the Board of Professional Conduct. (Note: Effective January 1, 2015, The Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline is the Board of Professional Conduct.)
The Board of Professional Conduct is a quasi-judicial body appointed by the Supreme Court of Ohio. In addition to the Board’s duties of adjudicating formal complaints of misconduct involving judges and lawyers and making recommendations to the Supreme Court on appropriate sanctions, the Board issues ethics advisory opinions and has legal staff members available to discuss ethics questions.
In that capacity, the Board frequently fields calls from lawyers about what to do with closed files. This situation is compounded when the lawyer is deceased, disappeared or otherwise indisposed and doesn’t have any plan in place to care for his/her clients.
The Office of Disciplinary Counsel also gets involved in these cases. Pursuant to the Rules for the Government of the Bar, Rule V, (hereinafter Gov Bar R V) Section 26 (A) when an attorney dies…or otherwise abandons his or her client files and no partner, executor or other responsible party capable of conducting the attorney’s affairs is available and willing to assume appropriate responsibility, disciplinary counsel or the chair of a certified grievance committee, may appoint an attorney(s) to inventory the files of the attorney and take appropriate action. ) (Note: Prior to the amendment of Gov Bar Rule V, effective January 1, 2015, this was Gov Bar Rule V, Section 8 (F).) This is a growing concern for the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
Succession planning is a multi-faceted topic. Succession planning needs to provide attorneys with a road map for:
- Potential temporary or unexpected absence from the practice;
- Plans for addressing age-related impairments;
- What happens to the practice in event of death of an attorney;
- How to plan for sale of the practice; and
- Closing a law practice.
For more information, download the eBook Succession Planning for Ohio Attorneys.