Our (yours and mine) Responsibility: planning ahead for impairment, disability, death and retirement

None of us wants to think about impairment, disability, death or retirement but all of us have a professional obligation to do so.  All of us will die.  Many, perhaps most of us, will retire (rather than die “in office”).  There are many different kinds of retirement:  voluntary, involuntary, bitter-sweet, happy, honorable, dishonorable, well thought-out, a total disaster, or “other.” The sooner one starts to plan the better the result will be.  

To overcome the natural and powerful inclination to duck the issue, it helps to think of how important it is to clients, family, partners and to the profession to plan ahead.  Planning for impairment, disability, death and retirement is one of a lawyer’s most important and most challenging and most difficult professional challenges.  Too many lawyers – solos and firms (and practice groups) that rely heavily on one lawyer – do not plan ahead.  The result often is harm to clients and destruction of a practice that could have survived and prospered if there had been thoughtful, realistic advance planning.  

In May of 2007 the National Organization of Bar Counsel and the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers Joint Committee on Aging Lawyers released its Final Report.  It is well worth reading.  We would, however, make one, in our view, very important change to it.  The report makes best practices recommendations to “grievance committees, bar associations, courts and the Bar.” Report, page 1.   We think the Report should have been directed first and foremost to individual lawyers – to you and to me and every other lawyer personally and individually.  In the first instance we, collectively, are the profession.  If we wait for grievance committees, bar associations and courts to take action on this issue there is every reason to believe that we will do nothing and that previously avoidable misery will visit us, our clients, our family, our partners and the profession.

The New York State Bar Association Committee on Law Practice Continuity has published “Planning Ahead: Establish an Advance Exit Plan to Protect Your Clients’ Interests In the Event of Your Disability, Retirement or Death.”  Written in the context of New York law, “Planning Ahead” is an excellent resource, including proposed forms, for dealing with the inevitable.

Given the very large number of aging lawyers in Connecticut as in the rest of the country, planning for disability, retirement and death is one of our most pressing professional and personal obligations.  If each of us doesn’t begin to take responsibility for our own clients and practices and families, no one else will. If no one does it, in addition to dying or becoming disabled, we’ll just be leaving a mess for someone else to try to clean up.  Not a great way to be remembered.