If you have not given much thought to the long-term future of your law practice, you are not alone. According to Thomson Reuters, about six in ten law firms surveyed said they had no formal succession plan in place and were anxious about not having such a plan. 

You might wonder if there is angst over not having a succession plan in place, why more attorneys and law firms do not make creating this plan a greater priority.

There may be a variety of legitimate reasons why your firm does not have a succession plan. Perhaps you are part of the 40 percent of lawyers who are not worried about a lack of a succession plan. Or perhaps you are a solo practitioner and have decided you do not need a formal succession plan.

Whatever your situation, if you are planning to transfer management of the firm to a son or daughter or anyone else who may have followed in your footsteps,  it is helpful to remember, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

Meaning and History of the Proverb

“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” may have first been used in recent times in 1839 by American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson. However, its roots are much more ancient than that. 

One of the earliest iterations of this phrase was a German expression, “Der Apffel fellt nicht weit vom Baum” (which literally translates as “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”).

Most individuals have seen an apple tree laden with fruit. While wandering through an orchard, you may have noticed that the apples that have fallen from the tree are always gathered on the ground beneath the tree. One or two may roll a little ways further from the tree than the rest, but for the most part, they remain close. 

This proverb draws on this common visual to make an observation about longevity and continuity.

The phrase is most often used to describe children who exhibit characteristics or tendencies of their parents. Even though the apples are no longer connected to the tree, they remain within its shadow. Similarly, children tend to take after the habits and mannerisms, and even the physical characteristics, of their parents.

What Apples and Your Law Firm Have in Common

This centuries-old saying has relevance not just to your children and grandchildren but to your law firm as well. It is not just retirement that can take you away from your law firm. Even solo practitioners can become ill or suffer an injury that requires them to be absent from work for some time. 

You want your law firm to be like an apple; even if you aren’t physically there, it should still operate as if you are.

Your employees and partners benefit from the continuity and certainty that a succession plan provides. It ensures your firm knows who is in charge when you or a managing partner retires, becomes incapacitated, or decides to leave the firm. 

Employees are not left wondering what will happen to the firm or their livelihoods and can instead focus on continuing their work.

Your clients also benefit from a succession plan. Without a plan that can be implemented when needed, your clients’ matters may become lost or delayed while someone tries to triage your firm’s business. 

A situation like this one can cause anger and frustration among your clients, angst among your employees, and potentially make it difficult to resume your practice if your absence was temporary and unplanned.

Making Sure Your Apple Stays Close to the Tree

If you have not yet created a succession plan, the process may seem daunting. And it is true that creating a workable and comprehensive plan can be time-intensive. However, the benefits your firm will reap if your plan must be implemented will be worth the time and effort you expend in making it.

While the ins and outs of creating a law firm succession plan exceed the scope of this article, your succession plan should be written down and include the following:

Access to Files, Documents, and Programs

Any effective succession plan will compile important information about your clients, their files, IOLTA account details, any applicable online services you use, and your vendor contracts in one easy-to-access location. 

Imagine someone outside of your firm needing access to the information you use on a daily basis to operate your firm. How would this person know where to go to copy a client’s file or to look at your firm’s finances? 

Having this information accessible yet secure will help anyone who steps in to manage your firm — either temporarily or permanently — quickly get the information they need to take the necessary next steps.

An Appointed Transition Lawyer

There should be one or more lawyers identified in your plan who are capable and willing to step in and help manage your firm’s operations in the event of a sudden illness or disabling injury. 

Identify the duties you would want these lawyers to undertake on your behalf and ensure they have access to the accounts, tools, and resources they would need in the event of an emergency. 

Make sure that these attorneys have agreed to act in this role as well. Memorialize your agreement with a written contract, including the scope of the transition lawyer or emergency lawyer’s authority.

The unknown and unexpected need not fill you with anxiety. A succession plan can ensure your firm’s ability to continue as you want it to in your absence. Similarly, having qualified legal assistants, bookkeepers, and paralegals can assist in keeping operations running smoothly, no matter who is at the helm. 

Together, these resources ensure that whether you are thinking about retirement or if an unexpected tragedy befalls you, your law firm does not stray from your management principles and desires.

Learn how Woven Legal can connect you with legal support professionals by calling them today and asking for your free discovery call.

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