Keeping the Success in Succession Planning: Part I

Practical Steps to Ensure a Smooth (and Lucrative) Transition

By Terrie S. Wheeler

As lawyers who graduated from law school in the 1980s, you are likely facing the same situation as many of your peers. You have successfully been practicing law for over 25 years; many of you for over 30 years. You have labored long and hard to build a solid reputation and likely have built a successful, lucrative practice. At parties and bar association events, your contemporaries are using the R-word quite regularly, causing you to pause and ask yourself, “What does the word retirement mean to me?” At this stage in the game, many lawyers begin to look with enthusiasm at the idea of scaling back, possibly moving toward an of counsel role with their firm. As you look at the next phase of your career, keep in mind that in many ways, you are your practice. As the old saying goes, clients hire lawyers, not law firms. Leaving relationships you have built unattended will limit your ability to maximize the value of your practice and possibly minimize the quality of your retirement. Whether you are a solo practitioner looking to transition your practice to the next generation of leadership, or a lawyer in a larger firm, you are incented to keep your relationships strong and to produce a steady stream of revenue into your firm. Now is the best time to maximize and leverage your years of experience and name recognition to maintain and even grow your practice. The valuable client and referral relationships that you have cultivated over the course of your career thus far will be key to setting the stage for future success as you ultimately transition out of practicing law.

As you look at transitioning your practice, consider the following tips and suggestions to help you maximize the asset that is your practice versus simply riding off into the sunset and hoping for the best.

  • Identify your Time Horizon – Are you looking to scale back in one year, three or five? Make sure you set a realistic deadline for when you would like to reduce your time commitment and start spending more time pursuing your hobbies and passions.
  • Continue Building Relationships – As you have likely experienced, a number of your best referral sources are also retiring from their own careers, leaving you with an opportunity to build new relationships within those organizations. Be proactive. When you know one of your best referral sources is contemplating retirement, ask them to introduce you to others in their organization and endorse the work you do as a lawyer.
  • Transfer your Knowledge and Keep your Profile High – Now is not the time to slowly fade away. Redouble your efforts to expand your name recognition in the marketplace. Write articles and give presentations, focusing your efforts on reaching groups of prospective clients and referral sources. Doing so will help you maintain your contacts and ensure your relevancy as an exceptional lawyer. Transfer the knowledge you have to those most interested in learning what you know.
  • Invest in Technology – If you have a smaller firm, now is the time to make sure you are up to speed on the latest practice management technologies. Assess your document management system, time and billing, and communications databases. If you are still using old technology, you are not going to appeal to today’s generation of lawyers who have been raised on technology gadgets and Web-based solutions.
  • Use LinkedIn – Make sure you are actively adding contacts to your LinkedIn profile. At your level you should have well over 500 contacts. If not, proactively connect with everyone in your “real” network. Then, post and comment on LinkedIn. Show contacts you are still extremely relevant by providing links to interesting information and news. Take notice of promotions, awards received, and interesting updates by commenting on your connections’ news and accomplishments.
  • Give your Website a Facelift – Nothing will turn a possible successor off more than going to your website and seeing a blocky, visually unappealing site your nephew created for you 10 years ago. With the advent of platforms like Word- Press, website development has become more accessible to smaller firms. Find a website developer and invest in a new website. It underscores the perception you are creating of being actively engaged in your practice.

More ideas to come in Part II!

Table of Contents
PSM Marketing