Perhaps you are one of the millions of Americans who have enjoyed the award-winning HBO Max (now “Max”) drama which celebrated its final episode this week. If you endured the entire four seasons, then you found yourself strangely drawn to this Greek tragedy in which none of the characters have redeeming qualities. Regardless, we kept watching. The premise, established in the first episode but not resolved until the finale – was who would succeed Logan Roy as the grand poohbah of the media and entertainment conglomerate he had built. There are no spoiler alerts here, but you either liked how it ended or didn’t. Suffice it to say, most would say that if were they in charge, they would have done something different.
While we cannot control the ending to this televised drama, we can avoid drama by creating an ending for our career, and our practice. Though most attorneys’ succession planning extends no further than being removed from the office on a gurney (a la dying with their boots on), that is not the best way to end a career for yourself, your partners and associates, your family, or your clients. Despite the fantastic strategic skills that we implore for our clients, we rarely focus them on ourselves.
There are two types of succession for which we should plan – expected/planned and unexpected.
Unexpected Succession Planning
Planning for the unexpected is not necessarily difficult but must be done. While the unexpected is just that, we can predict what it may be, just not when it may happen. If you have partners, planning for the unexpected is a must. You have helped build goodwill and generate accounts receivable or cases that will generate revenue after your death. That has value. There should be a mechanism to compensate your estate for what you have done. But you are also (hopefully) an integral part of the firm’s future financial plans, which will be less because of your demise. The firm should make plans to recover that loss – think “key person” life insurance.
The other type of transition can be planned, as well. It doesn’t have to be a full retirement but can mean slowing down. The opportunity to enjoy the fruits of your labor should be appealing to you without being devastating to those who are a part of your practice – other lawyers, paralegals, assistants, and most importantly, your clients. For the other lawyers in your practice, it can be an incentive to invest in their future. Without it, they may decide to look for better opportunities where the rug won’t be pulled out from under them. What motivates them? What is attractive to them? You cannot assume that you know. Everyone is different, especially when they are from different generations with different priorities.