Closing a Practice

Protecting the Client's Interests in the Event of the Lawyer's Death or Disability


Watch "Exiting Your Practice," a spotlight CLE with information on exit options for your practice, inlcuding the valuation and sale of your practice.


The WSBA provides the checklists on the right as a convenience for members seeking guidance on the best way to close a practice when retiring or to assist a survivor of a deceased or disabled lawyer in closing a practice.

ABA Formal Opinion 92-369 states that to fulfill the obligation to protect client files and property, a lawyer, especially a solo practitioner, should prepare a future plan for the maintenance and protection of those client interests in the event of the lawyer's death. Such a plan should include at a minimum the designation of another lawyer who would have the authority to review client files and make determinations as to which files need immediate attention and who would notify the clients of the lawyer's death. A lawyer who assumes responsibility for the client files and property of a deceased lawyer must review the files carefully to determine which files need immediate attention. Because the reviewing lawyer does not represent the client, only as much of the file as is needed to identify the client and to make a determination as to which files need immediate attention should be reviewed. Reasonable efforts must be made to contact all clients to notify them of the death and to request instructions.

The first step in planning process is for the lawyer to find another lawyer willing and able to be the assisting lawyer in the event of death, disability, impairment or incapacity of the requesting lawyer. A written consent form should be signed authorizing the assisting lawyer to contact clients for instructions on transferring their files, authorization to obtain extensions of time in litigation and general authorization to do anything necessary to close the practice, such as winding down financial affairs, providing final accountings to clients, collecting fees and selling the practice.

Allowing access to the trust account is a serious matter. Careful consideration should be made of the person to handle the account. If you give some one control of the trust account, you as the lawyer remain responsible. If the assisting person misappropriates money, the lawyer or his estate may be held responsible.

Download Forms and Materials

[Note: These materials are based upon a booklet published by the Oregon State Bar Professional Liability Fund entitled Planning Ahead: A Guide to Protecting Your Clients' Interests in the Event of Your Death or Disability, which has been edited for Washington lawyers.]

Voluntarily Closing Your Practice

Contact LOMAP for guidance about the nuances and timing of these steps.

Summary Checklist

  • Amounts Owed from Clients (Accounts Receivable): Ensure that these
    balances are paid or total in the aggregate in the low four figures before
    you announce your intentions to anyone. 
  • Give notice to staff
  • Cease taking new matters from new clients 
  • Cease taking new matters from existing clients
  • Give notice of termination of any rental/lease agreements 
  • Give notice to clients 
  • Conclude active cases 
  • Transfer files to new lawyer
  • Give files to clients
  • Deal with retained files such as closed files and original wills
  • Finalize accounting 
  • Prepare time records and list of work in progress 
  • Meet with Accountant 
  • Close accounts such as banking law firm accounts
  • Client Trust Accounts (after audit) 
  • Deal with unclaimed funds 
  • Lenders 
  • Accounts Receivable 
  • Safe Deposit Box 
  • Notify WSBA, professional organizations, and other bar associations
  • Notify Insurance Carriers such as malpractice, premises liability 
  • Fringe benefits such as health, life, disability 
  • Check with financial planner re retirement plans: IRAs, SEP, 401K 
  • Cancel other memberships, subscriptions
  • Take down computer system 
  • Determine disposition of furniture, fixtures, library, art, etc. 
  • Notify post office, legal messengers 
  • Notify telephone companies and have forwarding number
  • Write goodwill farewell thank you notes 
  • Deal with unresolved matters 
  • Enjoy the next steps in your path!


Exiting Your Practice

When it is time to leave your business, what will you do? This spotlight CLE will cover some of the basics for exiting your law practice.
  1. What are some exit options? Leave, sell or gift
  2. Find out how to determine the value of the business
  3. How to sell? Hire someone or do it yourself?
  4. Learn about sale agreements and financing

Speaker: Jessica McKeegan Jensen — Jessica Jensen Law PD, Olympia 

Guide to Best Practices for Client File Retention and Management

Resources

Checklist for Closing Your Own Office 

Checklist for Closing Another Attorney's Office 

Checklist for Lawyers Planning to Protect Clients' Interests in the Event of the Lawyer's Death, Disability, Impairment, or Incapacity
 

Publications

The Lawyer's Guide to Buying, Selling, Merging, and Closing a Law

Financial Planning For You & Your Clients (What Every Lawyer Should Know About Insurance, Investments, Estate Planning & Taxes)

 

ABA Resources

Planning for the Lawyers Retirement, Disability, or Death

See the ABA GP|Solo Magazine focus issue on buying or selling a law practice.