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Practice News


Asked and Answered 

By John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Q. I am the owner of a small estate planning firm in Worcester, Massachusetts. I have three associates and three staff members. I am 55 and want to begin putting in place my succession/exit plan. I would like to retire and exit the practice in 10 years. Would I be better off selling to another firm or attorney, merging the practice, bringing in laterals, or selling to one or both of my associates? I am interested in your thoughts.

A. The biggest challenge for many firms, is finding the right who.

The who dictates the what — the actual succession/transition/exit strategy. In other words, many law firms find that they start down one path and end up on another. Not all non-equity partners and associates want to own a law firm. Not all lateral and merger candidates will be a good fit for your firm and culture. The key is the right relationship and sometimes that takes the form of making someone at the firm a partner, bringing in a seasoned lateral, merging with another firm, or selling the practice. Therefore, succession/transition plans have to be flexible and often the key is not getting stuck in creating complex succession plans at the onset. Establish timelines, outline a general course of action, generate some momentum and see where that takes you. Then build the plan when you can see where the firm is headed.

Susan Dawson-Tibbits of Johnson, Bunce & Noble, P.C. discusses what you should know about the ABLE Act.


"If you think that most malpractice claims come from administrative errors like the failure to file documents, think again," writes Karen Erger in the April Illinois Bar Journal.

"[Consistently, the ABA's quadrennial study of malpractice claims has] found that substantive errors are the largest category of errors alleged in legal malpractice claims, Erger writes in her IBJ Loss Prevention column, sponsored by the ISBA Mutual Insurance Company. "In the 2016 study, for the first time since the 1999 study, substantive errors account for more than half of alleged errors. And the single most common error is a substantive error, namely 'Failure to Know/Properly Apply the Law,' which accounts for 15.38 percent of claims in the 2016 study. This validates the risk management maxim that dabbling in unfamiliar areas of practice is risky business, and underscores the importance of concentrating your practice on a few areas of law so that you can stay competent and capable in those areas," she writes.

In fact, administrative errors have fallen "from 30.13 percent of claims in the 2011 study to 23.15 percent in the 2016 study," Erger writes. "The study's authors suggest that '[b]etter computer calendaring systems, e-filing, electronic record keeping, and multiple modes of communication with clients appear to have assisted attorneys in managing their law practice.'"

A recent change to the rule governing how lawyers deal with unidentified funds in their pooled client trust accounts has generated over $1,000,000 for legal aid in Illinois.

In March 2015, the Supreme Court of Illinois amended Rule 1.15 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct to require Illinois lawyers to remit unidentified funds in these client trust accounts to the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois after a 12-month due diligence process to determine who owns the funds. Since the new rule went into effect on July 1, 2015, the Lawyers Trust Fund (LTF) has received $1,007,829.21.

“For the 1.8 million Illinoisans living in poverty, legal aid is the only realistic option when confronted with a serious legal problem,” said LTF executive director Mark Marquardt. “Unfortunately, legal aid groups are facing serious financial headwinds in terms of both state and federal funding, which make this new source of revenue even more critical.”

Latasha Barnes of Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation, Inc. provides an overview of student discipline reform under Senate Bill 100.

To learn more about SB 100 and student discipline, A Changing Landscape: Student Discipline 2016 is available online.


Asked and Answered 

By John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Q. I am a member of the executive committee of a 75-attorney firm in Houston, Texas. We are a first-generation firm. Several of our founders are in their 60s and we have recently begun discussing succession planning and how clients and management duties will be transitioned. We would appreciate your thoughts in these areas.

A. In larger firms, clients are more likely to be large, sophisticated clients, possibly Fortune 500 companies, which refer many matters to the firm during the course of a year. Often such clients may be both a blessing and a curse for the firm. A blessing in that their business provides the firm with huge legal fees during the course of a year. A curse in that their business represents a large percent of the firm’s annual fee collections and a significant business risk if the firm were to lose the client. An effective client transition is critical, takes time, and must be well planned.

Successful client transition – moving clients from one generation to the next – is a major challenge for larger firms. Shifting clients is not an individual responsibility but a firm responsibility. To effectively transition clients, the individual lawyer, with clients, must work together with the firm to insure the clients receive quality legal services throughout the transition process. Both the individual lawyer and the firm must be committed to keeping clients in the firm when the senior attorneys retire. Potential obstacles include:


"This past January, many newspapers carried stories of lawyers at airports, including O'Hare, offering assistance to immigrants and their families in light of the January 17 Presidential Executive Order on immigration," ISBA General Counsel Charles Northrup writes in the April Illinois Bar Journal. "The stories were often accompanied by photos of lawyers holding up hand-written signs saying things like 'Need a Lawyer?' or 'Lawyers Here to Help.'"

As Northrup puts it, he is "burdened to view the world through the lens of legal ethics," and his first thought was, "Isn't this improper in-person solicitation?"

Northrup explains that Illinois Rule of Professional Conduct 7.3, which governs in-person solicitation of clients, provides in subsection (a) that "a lawyer shall not by in-person, live telephone or real-time electronic contact solicit professional employment when a significant motive for the lawyer's doing so is the lawyer's pecuniary gain…."

By Sandra Crawford, JD, Mediator, Collaborative Process Professional, Trained Circle Keeper

No matter where on this planet our ancestors hailed from, it is safe to say that at some point in history all of them sat around a fire either for heat, nourishment, storytelling, entertainment, community, support, and most likely to do some problem solving. From these ancient beginnings has grown what is now generally known as the Circle Process — a problem resolving or peacemaking model that can be used in a variety of settings for a variety of purposes. “The philosophy of Circle acknowledges that we are all in need of help and that helping others helps us at the same time." The Little Book of Circle Processes by Kay Pranis, page 6. (Hereinafter "the Little Book").

There are various types of circles. All share key elements and draw on indigenous tribal traditions mixed with contemporary concepts of democracy, inclusiveness, and multi-cultural integration. The shared key elements of all circles are: Ceremony, Guidelines, Talking Piece, Keeping/Facilitation, and Consensus/Decision Making. Briefly, the different types are:

ISBA Director of Legislative Affairs Jim Covington reviews legislation in Springfield of interest to ISBA members. This week he covers the Nursing Home Act and attorney fees, the Collaborative Process Act, child support law technical corrections, a bill affecting objections to jurisdiction, mandated child abuse or neglect reporters, an omnibus condo bill, and a bill amending the Condominium Property Act.

More information on each bill is available below the video.


Asked and Answered

By John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Q. I am a partner in a 45-lawyer firm in Memphis and a member on the firm’s executive committee. We are planning on having a two-day planning retreat in June of this year. We have had these retreats every year for the past six years. Past retreats have only included attorneys. This year we are considering including staff members. We would appreciate your thoughts as to whether this is a good idea.

A. A firm invites all key staff to a retreat when they can play a major role in identifying problems and developing solutions. A firm retreat is an excellent forum if the partners or management have determined that individuals at different levels within the firm are having communication problems – for example – where communication is inadequate between:

  • Equity partners and non-equity partners
  • Partners and associates
  • Attorneys and staff

Having these individuals participate in solving their own communication problems at the retreat usually produces better results than those obtained when the partners hand down orders that may not deal with the real issues. Staff participation can help identify problems, involve more firm members after the retreat in the implementation of solutions, and improve buy in.