Professional Transitions

- Richard Brock

Transitioning clients from one lawyer to another is an inevitable part of a firm’s responsibilities. For example, is there a lawyer who is approaching retirement, or is otherwise unable to continue in their present capacity. Is a senior lawyer, who is delegating some responsibilities to a younger lawyer, also mentoring him/her? Are cases being transferred to a new lateral new hire? A successful transition of duties between lawyers requires thoughtful consideration and a thorough plan.

The possibility of a transition should be considered with every client’s file. Keeping a profile of a client’s preferences, style, and expectations will provide insight should the need for a transition arise. Pay attention to the client’s messages. Who do they connect with? Do they include someone on the team in their social events? Unless the client has minimal needs, wisdom suggests that secondary connections to the firm’s team be established.

Thoughtful consideration and thorough, early planning are key to any successful transition. This is particularly vital when:

  • An emergency requires an immediate transfer
  • A long-term client is being transitioned to a different lawyer

Emergency Transitions

An established, comprehensive succession plan and secondary connections protect the client from needless worry and your law firm from undue stress. It outlines a strategy for specific situations. In the case of an emergency, it quickly answers vital questions, such as:

  • How will the current caseload be handled?
  • Where are the client contact information and case details located?
  • What are his/her pending cases?
  • Are there any court dates coming up?

Planned Client Transitions

Transitioning a client from one lawyer to another requires a different degree of finesse than just a transition of duties from one lawyer to another. It is not a matter of merely introducing the client to a different attorney who will be taking over their case. It requires a focused effort on relationship building.

If a lawyer retires from the firm, the linkage with someone else should already be in place, and the likelihood of the client leaving will be reduced.

When the transition is the result of a senior partner retiring, start well in advance, before the client is aware of the process. Ensure the client has opportunities to meet their prospective “new” lawyer in business/social functions. Build a relationship for a year or more before you introduce the topic of transition.

Selecting the best lawyer to transition clients and duties to is essential. Their legal skills and case-type experience is vital of course, but so is their personality and working style. On the other hand, a great relationship means nothing if a lawyer’s practice area is different than the client’s needs.  Success is built of both expertise and personal connections.

Begin the transition with cross-selling. Maintain the current lawyer/client relationship but introduce the client to another attorney who will cover specific tasks. It allows time for the new lawyer and client to begin building rapport. It helps the client to put trust in a new lawyer long before the current lawyer steps away.

Avoid creating a competitive environment between the exiting lawyer and the one who is receiving the reins. While the current lawyer is spending less time on the caseload, they are replacing that time with assisting/mentoring their replacement to ensure a smooth transition. Maintaining a team spirit is the best way to secure a successful transition rather than the loss of a client.

Sometimes transitioning clients from a retiring lawyer results in the need for a new lawyer for your firm. Onboard Search is your best resource any time you need additional lateral attorneys, whether partner level or associate level. Our passion is finding the very best talent for you.  We do this by combining deep knowledge of the legal industry with decades of practical experience in conducting high-level searches.  Our ability to find and deliver talent is how we drive value for our clients. Contact us today.