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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. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  2. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  3. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

  4. The sad thing is that no fish were thrown overboard The "greenhorn" who had never fished before those 5 days was interrogated for over 4 hours by 5 officers until his statement was illicited, "I don't want to go to prison....." The truth is that these fish were measured frozen off shore and thawed on shore. The FWC (state) officer did not know fish shrink, so the only reason that these fish could be bigger was a swap. There is no difference between a 19 1/2 fish or 19 3/4 fish, short fish is short fish, the ticket was written. In addition the FWC officer testified at trial, he does not measure fish in accordance with federal law. There was a document prepared by the FWC expert that said yes, fish shrink and if these had been measured correctly they averaged over 20 inches (offshore frozen). This was a smoke and mirror prosecution.

  5. I love this, Dave! Many congrats to you! We've come a long way from studying for the bar together! :)

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