by Ted Mark
“But what will we do?” asks the client when you announce your intended retirement. After 39 years of small firm and solo in-general practice, it’s hard not to want to help out your client. It’s been hard enough for you to come to the decision. Telling a client is even harder.
What impact is your retirement going to have on your clients? In the short-term, lots. Remember what you had to go through to find a new doctor, accountant, psychologist, or other professional advisor?
How do you actually do “it”? There is a smattering of articles in legal magazines. But they want continuing subscribers, so help for those who are canceling subscriptions are few. The Law Society is some help, both in the online resources, and particularly, David Bilinsky. The Membership Services and the Trust Reporting departments are helpful in their respective areas. You will have to deal with them, so phone ahead.
You will have to undergo an attitude adjustment. It’s funny how you have been able to carry on with your practice and your life without your now retired doctor, dentist, financial advisor and others. Your clients will survive.
But you want your clients to remember you fondly. What are some of the alternatives?
First, you can just walk away. Health issues might force this. If retirement is trying to save your health, you might not be remembered well if you follow this alternative. You are still going to be dealing with the Law Society. Take a look at the Professional Conduct Handbook, Rules 2-8 and 3-80. (Why do we have so many rules?)
Second, you can bring in someone else. But, have you downsized already, preventing your firm from taking on the financial burden of a new lawyer? Maybe you have left it too long to do this. You probably should have done this about five years before, so your clients will get used to dealing with your successor. Lawyers think of that for their clients, not themselves.
Third, see if you can find a larger firm that offers a full range of services, and that has a character that matches your own. I know; no one is as good as you. But try it. You might be able to negotiate a small payment for the asset you have built up over the years, but be prepared to offer to work on a transition of your clients to the new firm. Consider finishing off the dogs yourself. Give it a year.
It’s going to take you a year no matter which alternative you follow. Why not give your clients the opportunity for some reasonable continuing legal services? You are going to miss the hassle of administration, the late nights of preparation, the collegiality, the reminders from your spouse about why you are retiring, but you are going to have the satisfaction of knowing you looked after your clients even in your retirement.
Me? My wife and I moved to Vancouver Island to enjoy the clean air and the recreation. I’m working part-time in a law office on a contract basis, as needed. The world has to be told that sole practitioners are irreplaceable!
Ted Mark, Semi-retired sole practitioner
This article was published in the February 2008 issue of BarTalk. © 2008 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.