I am the sole owner of a twelve-lawyer defense litigation practice in Chicago. We represent automobile manufactures and have approximately ten major clients. I am the only equity partner in the firm and all of the other lawyers in the firm are associates. Two associates are seasoned lawyers with substantial experience and have been with the firm for many years and the other nine have less than five years experience. The two seasoned associates are in their mid-sixties. I am sixty-eight. I just realized that the firm’s office lease expires in eight months and I have decided that this is a good time to retire. I will not sign another lease and I would like to be completely retired in the next six months. My wife has some health issues and I need to devote my total time time to her. I have talked with the two senior associates and they plan on retiring as well. Therefore, I will have to either close the firm or find another firm interested in taking over the firm. Have I waited too long?
Possibly so. Eight months is a very short timeline to locate another law firm that might be interested in acquiring or merging with your firm. However, this is not always the case. I have had situations where interested parties were located in a month or two through cold approaches, discussions held, details worked out, and the transaction concluded within six months. If you have a few firms in mind that you could approach the process could go much quicker than if cold approaches have to be used. So your timeline is not impossible but you need to get started yesterday. Keep in mind that client transition is paramount in the success of such arrangements and usually the acquiring firm wants a transition period, often of a year or so in which you work at the firm in a consultant capacity to assist with client relationship management and transition. Therefore, you might have to stick around in an Of Counsel role for a year or two.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC