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Feb 11, 2015

Law Firm Succession – Client Transition Plan


I am a founding partner in a 17 attorney firm with nine partners and eight associates located in Chicago west suburbs. We represent business firms and other institutional clients. I am the primary rainmaker in the firm. I am 60 and am planning on retiring when I am 65. My concern is how to effectively transition clients. I would appreciate your thoughts.


Successful client transition – moving clients from one generation to the next – is a major challenge for all law 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:

Transitioning client relationships effectively can and where possible should take a number of years – preferably five years – typically not less than three years. 

The following client transition plan might be an approach you could take to transition clients over a three to five year period:

  1. Review your Top Client List and develop and implement a detailed action and milestone plan for each significant client.  
  2. In consultation with the Firm Executive Committee, designate one or more Co-Responsible Attorney(s) for each existing client, and each new client as to which you are the Responsible (Primary) Attorney. You, in consultation with the Firm Executive Committee, may for cause adjust or amend the Co-Responsible Attorney(s) designation as to any Transitioning Client. The stated goal in designating one or more Co-Responsible Attorneys for each client is to facilitate the transition and retention of your clients upon your retirement and phase-out from the practice of law. You will agree to introduce the Co-Responsible Attorney(s) to the client when you are reasonably available, and work with the Co-Responsible Attorney(s) to transition the client and client matters to the Co-Responsible Attorney(s). You and the Co-Responsible Attorney(s) shall meet to discuss and evaluate the timing for the transition of each client. However, notice to clients shall be solely at your discretion. The Co-Responsible Attorney(s) may, at your discretion, prepare all invoices for legal services rendered. You will review and approve all invoices unless you agree to the contrary in writing. The client’s wishes shall be paramount in the designation or selection of any Co-Responsible Attorney(s) and client satisfaction shall at any time allow for change of the designation of same.    
  3. You will perform such duties as the Firm Executive Committee of the Firm may from time to time determine to be in the best interest of the Firm and which are agreeable to you. You will  agree that your professional procedures will be in accordance with the rules and regulations promulgated by the Firm Executive Committee. You will also maintain the records as reasonably required by the Firm Executive Committee. 
  4. Of Counsel. After the conclusion of the final transition year, the firm may enter into an “Of Counsel” relationship with you. In that event, you would be listed as “Of Counsel”. The relationship would be subject to both parties agreeing on the terms and conditions of the “Of Counsel” relationship.

Effective client transition takes time so start early. Clients hire lawyers not law firms.

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





Posted at 08:03 AM in Succession/Exit Strategies
Tags: Client, Firm, Law, Succession, Transition

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