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IBA: Planning Ahead for Solo or Small Firm Lawyers

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You are an attorney in a solo practice or small law office, and you know from experience that your presence and attention are required daily. In fact, this state of affairs has repeatedly interfered with vacations and family events. Have you ever thought about what would happen if you were suddenly involved in an accident, or had an unexpected illness, or an untimely death? In such situations, how would your clients fare? Who would cover upcoming court dates? Who would guide clients to new counsel?

On the other hand, imagine you are a lawyer sitting in your office and a new client comes in saying her lawyer recently died and asking if you will handle her case. As you talk with her, you find out no one has been able to locate her files, so in order for you to take her case, you must start from scratch, which, unless you’re willing to work for less, brings up the question, will you charge her for work already done? What do you do now? Take it or turn it away? What if you take her case and find errors in the previous lawyer’s file?

You can find the answers to all these questions and more in “Planning Ahead: A Plan for Protecting Your Clients in the Event of Your Disability or Death,” published by the Indianapolis Bar Association. The book includes sections on why you have a duty to plan ahead and how to do it, frequently asked questions, checklists, sample forms, and helpful resources.

The book’s authors propose that competent legal representation includes making specific plans for how your clients’ cases are handled if you are no longer able to continue practicing law. In planning, you first need to find an attorney to close your practice or take it over until you are able to return. (In the book, this lawyer is called the assisting lawyer.) You and the assisting lawyer then determine the scope of his or her duty to you and your clients and sign a consent form authorizing that lawyer to perform all necessary activities, which might include the following:

• Contact your clients for instructions on transferring files

• Obtain extensions of time in litigation matters if needed

• Notify all relevant people about the closure of your practice

• Wind down your practice

• Collect fees on your behalf

• Liquidate or sell your practice

In addition to spelling out the issues and procedures related to closing a practice and those related to interruptions in a practice, the book discusses matters of ethics and subjects such as access to trust accounts, including contingencies for access and alternatives if you don’t want to allow access to your trust account.

For a free copy of “Planning Ahead” or more information about the book, contact the Indianapolis Bar Association by calling 317-269-2000 or email iba@indybar.org. If you know an attorney who needs the kind of help described in this article, you can also contact Terry Harrell, director of the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program, by calling 317-833-0370.•

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  1. I like the concept. Seems like a good idea and really inexpensive to manage.

  2. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

  3. So, if you cry wolf one too many times courts may "restrict" your ability to pursue legal action? Also, why is document production equated with wealth? Anyone can "produce probably tens of thousands of pages of filings" if they have a public library card. I understand this is an extreme case, but our Supreme Court really got this one wrong.

  4. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

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