IndyBar: Planning Ahead for Solo and 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 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. This new language about a warning has not been discussed at previous meetings. It's not available online. Since it must be made public knowledge before the vote, does anyone know exactly what it says? Further, this proposal was held up for 5 weeks because members Carol and Lucy insisted that all terms used be defined. So now, definitions are unnecessary and have not been inserted? Beyond these requirements, what is the logic behind giving one free pass to discriminators? Is that how laws work - break it once and that's ok? Just don't do it again? Three members of Carmel's council have done just about everything they can think of to prohibit an anti-discrimination ordinance in Carmel, much to Brainard's consternation, I'm told. These three 'want to be so careful' that they have failed to do what at least 13 other communities, including Martinsville, have already done. It's not being careful. It's standing in the way of what 60% of Carmel residents want. It's hurting CArmel in thT businesses have refused to locate because the council has not gotten with the program. And now they want to give discriminatory one free shot to do so. Unacceptable. Once three members leave the council because they lost their races, the Carmel council will have unanimous approval of the ordinance as originally drafted, not with a one free shot to discriminate freebie. That happens in January 2016. Why give a freebie when all we have to do is wait 3 months and get an ordinance with teeth from Day 1? If nothing else, can you please get s copy from Carmel and post it so we can see what else has changed in the proposal?

  2. Here is an interesting 2012 law review article for any who wish to dive deeper into this subject matter: Excerpt: "Judicial interpretation of the ADA has extended public entity liability to licensing agencies in the licensure and certification of attorneys.49 State bar examiners have the authority to conduct fitness investigations for the purpose of determining whether an applicant is a direct threat to the public.50 A “direct threat” is defined as “a significant risk to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated by a modification of policies, practices or procedures, or by the provision of auxiliary aids or services as provided by § 35.139.”51 However, bar examiners may not utilize generalizations or stereotypes about the applicant’s disability in concluding that an applicant is a direct threat.52"

  3. We have been on the waiting list since 2009, i was notified almost 4 months ago that we were going to start receiving payments and we still have received nothing. Every time I call I'm told I just have to wait it's in the lawyers hands. Is everyone else still waiting?

  4. I hope you dont mind but to answer my question. What amendment does this case pretain to?

  5. Research by William J Federer Chief Justice John Marshall commented May 9, 1833, on the pamphlet The Relation of Christianity to Civil Government in the United States written by Rev. Jasper Adams, President of the College of Charleston, South Carolina (The Papers of John Marshall, ed. Charles Hobson, Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2006, p, 278): "Reverend Sir, I am much indebted to you for the copy of your valuable sermon on the relation of Christianity to civil government preached before the convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Charleston, on the 13th of February last. I have read it with great attention and advantage. The documents annexed to the sermon certainly go far in sustaining the proposition which it is your purpose to establish. One great object of the colonial charters was avowedly the propagation of the Christian faith. Means have been employed to accomplish this object, and those means have been used by government..." John Marshall continued: "No person, I believe, questions the importance of religion to the happiness of man even during his existence in this world. It has at all times employed his most serious meditation, and had a decided influence on his conduct. The American population is entirely Christian, and with us, Christianity and Religion are identified. It would be strange, indeed, if with such a people, our institutions did not presuppose Christianity, and did not often refer to it, and exhibit relations with it. Legislation on the subject is admitted to require great delicacy, because freedom of conscience and respect for our religion both claim our most serious regard. You have allowed their full influence to both. With very great respect, I am Sir, your Obedt., J. Marshall."