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Posts published in “Planning for the Future”

Holiday Tips for Solo or Small Firm Lawyers (Before Closing Office for Holidays)

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The holiday season should be relaxing, worry-free and most of all, safe. That's why it is a good idea to prepare your office before you close for the holidays. Below are a few tips from the Practice Management Assistance Program to help you get started.

Several Weeks Prior to the Holiday

  1. If at all possible, ask another lawyer to be your back up or successor in case of emergencies. You can execute an authorization and consent to enter the law firm offices or adapt the Bar’s “Agreement to Close a Law Practice” to formalize your agreement with the emergency attorney. The agreement includes Power of Attorney language and a section on specific powers granted to the backup lawyer. (The Bar strongly recommends solos have a full agreement regardless of whether you are going on vacation. Also, you can designate a successor on the Bar’s website.) When you are out of the office for vacation or other reasons, and you are unable to find another lawyer to be your backup, you may choose to entrust a trusted staff member or family member. (The book, “Being Prepared: A Lawyer’s Guide for Dealing with Disability or Unexpected Events” by Cohen and Cohen is recommended for forms and checklists.)
  2. Let your backup know how to reach you and set expectations as to what constitutes an emergency warranting your intervention.
  3. Prepare an envelope to be opened by your backup with information to be used in emergencies. Include crucial passwords, the key to your mailbox, locked office/file cabinets, and information about bank accounts/trusts. Put this envelope in a safe location or give to your backup.
  4. Plan your schedule carefully. Share your plans with coworkers or with your successor. Make sure any office personnel have all the information they need to assist clients and reach you.
  5. Notify current clients in writing of your holiday schedule and emergency contact person.
  6. Post a holiday office hours schedule in your office, on your website, or in your email signature line so clients know in advance when you plan to be closed.
  7. Request protection from all courts you may be called before while you are away.
  8. Set clear goals for what you need to accomplish before you leave and what remains unfinished for when you return.
  9. Make sure security software and backups are working properly.

 

One Week Prior to the Holiday

  1. Review all client files and prepare a client summary of each matter.
  2. Attempt to resolve any potential issues or questions with clients or other counsel early. Talk to your back up lawyer about on-going matters and any potential problems to be aware of.
  3. Monitor your email inbox and physical mail and categorize high priority messages.
  4. Set automatic payments for operating expenses if necessary.
  5. Send outstanding invoices.
  6. Test your data backups and make sure all your data is backed up to an external location.
  7. Check physical locks to all windows, doors, access points.
  8. Test locks to client files, file closets, and office.
  9. Clean off your desk.

 

Last Day at Work

  1. Set an out of office greeting on voicemail and email. Include contact information for your emergency contact.
  2. Remove perishable food items from refrigerator and cabinets.
  3. Organize desk and prepare a checklist so you’ll know what you need to do when you return.
  4. Remind staff where you would like your mail and messages to go while you are out.
  5. Be sure your back up lawyer has all the information they need before you leave.
  6. Remind staff to set out of office greetings if they are on vacation too.
  7. Lock up client files, file closets, and your office

 

When You Return from Holiday

  1. Turn off holiday voicemail greeting/email out of office (if not automatic).
  2. Talk to your back-up lawyer to determine if you need to resolve any issues.
  3. Meet with staff to see what issues have come up while they were out and work to answer questions, solve problems, and delegate.
  4. Set aside 1-2 hours to sort through urgent messages, priorities, etc.
  5. Return calls and emails promptly and open snail mail and respond.

Contact pmap@scbar.org with any questions or if you need additional assistance.

Do You Have a Contingency Plan?

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There’s no time like the present to think about your contingency plan.

Sometimes, it’s hard to write a succession plan because you don't like to think about being dead or disabled. However, it is imperativechanging and something all lawyers can do per Law Practice.orgManaging Law Firm Transition and Rule 1.19 of the S.C. Rules of Professional Conduct.

At a minimum, write a letter to your paralegal or the attorney who would mind your office explaining to them what they would need to know if you were outside of service on a long vacation. Then, make an emergency plan should you become disabled, incapacitated or not able to act inside your practice again. Print the Preparation Checklist to plan accordingly. Fill out this form to add your successor(s) to the registry maintained by the Bar. Finally, use this Agreement to Close a Law Practice as a model agreement between you and your successor(s).

There’s no better time to plan than now!

If you have questions or would like more information on succession planning, contact the Practice Management Assistance Program.

Succession Planning

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If you were to become incapacitated or pass away suddenly, do you know today who your back up to your law practice would be? If this is something you have not reflected on, you should think about creating a succession plan. Don’t know where to start? Contact PMAP Director Courtney Kennaday at pmap@scbar.org for more information

Take a Break

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Did you know...?
• Employers in the United States are not obligated to offer any paid vacation
• Vacation is mandated by law in many other parts of the world
• Poll: Only 57% of U.S. workers use up all of the vacation days they're entitled to
Credit: CNN Online.

Study after study shows the mental and physical health benefits of taking time off. It seems like common sense to me: if you’re tired and stressed, you’re more likely to make mistakes. On the one hand, a vacation is a chance to recharge your batteries and come back relaxed and with a fresh perspective on your job. On the other hand, you could come back to chaos: piles of unanswered emails and phone messages; crises un-handled, and even clients lost.

If you’re a sole practitioner, the idea of taking any time off probably frightens you. Here’s the perspective of one solo who learned that you can take vacation time, including tips on what you should do before you go. However, the author writes about the help his staff provides. What if you’re it – the only person in the office? Can you do it? Should you do it? Yes and yes. The secret is not only planning, it’s learning to let go and recognizing that you can’t control everything. You can manage it as professionally as possible, but eventually, you’re going to conk out. Working at the Bar, you notice the stories of lawyers passing away suddenly. You know the lawyers who suffered serious health set-backs. Life has a way of teaching us that we aren’t in control. Figuring out a way to take vacations helps us also figure out how to manage our practices better; plus, we learn something about planning for the future and when we're no longer around.

It’s a cliché, but on your deathbed, are you going to think that you should have worked more?