Law Practice Succession Planning Checklist

  • August 09, 2017
  • David Debenham

Use your lawyer skills to protect your stakeholders and loved ones with the same care and attention that you give to your clients. Here is a checklist to help you prepare your practice for the inevitable and, should it occur, ensure that you and your loved ones are looked after.  

1. Create or maintain an office procedure manual

Review and update the manual from time to time, providing detailed directions regarding every aspect of your office’s operations, including:

  • checking for conflicts of interest,
  • using the calendaring system,
  • generating lists of active client files (with client names, addresses, and phone numbers),
  • location of ledgers,
  • organization of open and active files,
  • organization and numbering of closed files,
  • location of and access to closed files,
  • policy on keeping and location of original client documents,
  • location of and access to safe deposit box,
  • bank and account information for all firm bank accounts,
  • location of all firm bank account records,
  • location of or information regarding computer passwords,
  • access voice mail accounts or answering machine, and
  • location of and access to post office or other mail service boxes.

2. Ensure that a complete list of client and other files exists or can be generated readily

3. Maintain secure documentation

Account for all accounting and financial information, access codes, and passwords and provide the document location in your planning instructions. Keeping an off-site duplicate is wise for emergency planning purposes as well.

4. Track all deadlines for every file in a central calendar system that can be easily located and accessed

5. Thoroughly document all files

Maintaining this standard practice will not only protect you, but also allow your successor lawyer to take the file over with little or no delay and expense to clients.

6. Keep all time and billing records current

7. Avoid holding onto clients’ property and original documents; return original documentation to clients as soon as possible

8. Purge and close files regularly so your successor does not have to

9. Arrange for a back-up or assisting lawyer

A back-up or assisting lawyer can take on your practice in the event of your disability, incapacity or death. Familiarize that  lawyer with your office systems and staff. Keep that lawyer aware of any significant changes.

  • Consider entering into a formal written agreement with the back-up or assisting lawyer.
  • Store all critical information regarding client matters, trust accounts, and firm financial information in a location the successor or back-up lawyer can readily find and access.
  • Consider including in retainer agreements provisions regarding your arrangements for a back-up or assisting lawyer to resume or close your practice in the event of your disability, incapacity, or death.

10. Draft guidelines for family members, the back-up or assisting lawyer, and office staff and discuss your plans with these people

11. Arrange for access to your trust accounts in case of your illness, incapacity, or death

12. Prepare powers of attorney for the practice and trust accounts

13. Prepare and maintain your will and include terms covering practice-related issues

14. Keep colleagues, partners, family and staff  aware of your plans

Life is what happens while we're making other plans. We must hope for the best and prepare for the worst.  

About the author

David Debenham is a partner with the Ottawa office of McMillan LLP. He can be contacted at (613) 691-6109, or

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