Selling Your Practice, Closing and Retirement

The New York State Bar Association Planning Ahead Guide is provided to all attorneys as a courtesy of the Law Practice Management Department and outlines the steps a lawyer must take to protect his or her clients in the event of a sudden inability to continue in practice.  The Planning Ahead Guide includes important information about selling or closing your firm.  

The Committee on Lawyers in Transition provides free webcast programs to all members on transitioning or retiring.  Programs are available online at www.nysba.org/LIT.   Members are also encouraged to visit the Senior Lawyers Section homepage for additional helpful information at www.nysba.org/SLS.  The LPM Department also offers CLE programs on selling your practice. 

Selling Your Law Practice | A Program for Solo and Small Firm Practitioners | 1.5 MCLE Credits
CLE Video Online, On Demand Program
NYSBA Members - $50 | Non-Members - $150
Geared toward solo and small firm practitioners, this program will provide an overview of planning for retirement and selling your law practice.  Panelists will share tips and best practices.

Featuring Peter A. Giuliani, Smock Law Firm Consultants, Weston, CT and Walter T. Burke, Esq., Burke & Casserly, P.C., Albany, NY



Departing a Law Firm

The following checklist and sample forms should be used for guidance only and are not intended to be an all inclusive list of what needs to be done. Every attorney and every firm needs to tailor the departure practice aids to meet their own specific situation.

CHECKLIST FOR DEPARTING ATTORNEYS

1. Identify clients to notify about your departure. 

2. Determine the status of your caseload. 

3. Decide what approach to take with your firm regarding files and clients. 

4. Draft a letter to your clients informing them of your departure and their option to stay with you as their attorney. 

5. Draft authorization for transfer of client file to be enclosed with notification letter to clients. [See Authorization to Transfer File to Departing Attorney.] 

6. Meet with your firm; finalize your client notification letter. 

7. Mail notification letters to clients. 

8. File substitutions or withdraw as attorney of record* on cases you will not be taking with you to your new position. (This includes state and federal agencies as well as state and federal court systems.)

9. Prepare a memo to the appropriate partner(s) regarding status of files you are leaving behind. Include information about upcoming deadlines.

10. Make arrangements with your former firm to forward mail and redirect incoming calls.

11. Make arrangements with your former firm to set up an automated email reply and filter to process your incoming messages. [See Email Communications for Departing Attorneys.]

12. Discuss who will retain or store your closed files.

13. Arrange to take conflict information with you to your new position. 

14. Determine whether you will need to reimburse your firm in whole or in part for any professional liability coverage paid by the firm. If your firm has excess coverage, check with your excess carrier.

15. Determine whether you will need to reimburse your firm in whole or in part for any state bar association dues paid by the firm.

16. Submit a change of address card to the post office.

17. Prepare a change of address notice for opposing counsel, courts, vendors, etc.

18. If required by your state bar association, submit a change of address form.

19. Prepare and mail out announcement cards about your new position (to your state bar association, local bar association, law school alumni newsletter, former clients, friends, colleagues, etc.)

20. Review the client list at your new office to screen for potential conflicts.

21. Sign new fee agreements with the clients you brought over from your old firm.

22. Arrange for transfer of trust funds from your old firm. The trust account check from your former firm should be accompanied by an itemization of funds being transferred, as well as copies of the most recent billing statements sent to the clients.

*Review applicable rules of professional conduct and rules of procedure. 


EMAIL COMMUNICATIONS FOR DEPARTING ATTORNEYS

In a perfect world, clients would be notified well in advance of an attorney’s departure from a firm and the transition would be a smooth one. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Email and other communications may continue to come to the firm long after an attorney has left the office. How should these emails be handled? The situation can become tense between the departing attorney and the former firm, with each party rightly concerned about the ethics of exposing potential and existing client confidences.

One solution is to set up an automated reply message which bounces back to the sender. The automated reply advises the sender to (1) Resend the email message to the departing attorney, if the sender intended the departing attorney to receive it; or (2) Resend the email to the firm, if the firm is the intended recipient. This solution preserves client confidences. A sample automated reply appears below.

The automated reply should be accompanied by a filter or email rule which deletes incoming email messages for the departing attorney after the auto reply has been sent. This will prevent incoming messages from being opened, saved, or forwarded. [If you are an Outlook user, see the PLF practice aid, Setting Up Automated Email Replies and Filters in Outlook.]


SAMPLE AUTOMATED REPLY ANNOUNCEMENT REGARDING [DEPARTING ATTORNEY]

[Departing Attorney] has withdrawn from [Former Firm] and will be practicing law through [her/his] own law office beginning [date]. [Departing Attorney’s] new contact information is:

[Departing Attorney]   [New Firm]   [Address]  [Telephone]  [Fax]  [Email Address]

*****IMPORTANT MESSAGE ***** 

YOUR EMAIL WILL NOT BE OPENED, SAVED, OR FORWARDED. PLEASE FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS BELOW TO RESEND YOUR MESSAGE. YOUR EMAIL WILL BE DELETED FROM THE [Former Firm’s] SYSTEM WITHOUT BEING READ OR REVIEWED. 

To protect client confidentiality and legally privileged and/or confidential information, your email will NOT be read, will NOT be saved, will NOT be forwarded. It will be deleted from our email server without being opened.

If you intend your message to be read by [Departing Attorney] personally, please resend your message to [Departing Attorney] at [Departing Attorney’s Email Address].

If you intend your message to be read by an attorney at [Former Firm],  please resend your message to [Designated Attorney] at [Former Firm Email Address]. If you would like to speak with an attorney at [Former Firm], please contact [Designated Attorney] at [Telephone Number]. 

Thank you for your cooperation and understanding.



Letter From Firm and Departing Attorney


Authorization for Transfers of Client Files