Ask Attorney Jennifer B.: Securing The Value of Your Life’s Work
Most of us are so busy developing our legal practices that we don’t even have time to rest, much less think about succession planning. When starting out, it is essential to focus on business development and growth while doing excellent legal work to build our reputation. However, time goes by quickly, and before we know it, we go from building our book of business to thinking about how to manage it, and ultimately, how we would like to cut back a bit and maybe even retire someday. To assure that we can accomplish this, we must consider and implement a plan for the continuation of our life’s work, especially for when we may no longer have the ability or desire to continue working. As such, it is never too early to create a successful succession plan. The tips set forth below will provide a roadmap for doing so.
1. Consider the Possibilities – Look at your current staff. If you have hired carefully, you should have one or more choices of people who could potentially step into, albeit not immediately fill, your shoes. If you don’t have any staff members yet or don’t have any staff member who has that potential, then start looking to hire someone who can do this. The potential successor should have a strong work ethic as well as a commitment to your practice. Leadership qualities are also essential. However, do not expect that the person or persons you choose will be ready to take over your practice tomorrow. There is still a lot of work to do before they will be fully prepared.
2. Allow for Growth and Development – Once you have identified the potential person or persons who may be able to succeed you, it is time to help them and allow them to grow and develop. The best way to do this is to teach them what you have learned over the course of your career thus far and to give them increasing amounts of responsibility. While attorneys are notorious for believing that only they can do their work, delegation is key to allowing others to develop. Moreover, it is a means of knowing whether the person you identified as a possible successor really has what it takes to keep your practice afloat. Finally, it forces you to give up some control.
3. Loosen the Reins – Once you have someone who has the work ethic and can take on the responsibility you have provided them, it is time to relax your need to micromanage everything and give them the opportunity to thrive. This slight loss of control will not be easy, but it is essential to give your protégé the confidence and desire to keep the practice moving forward. They will feel invested in the business and in turn, will want to see it succeed. While they may not do everything in the exact manner you would, you must remain assured that they have the best interests of your practice in mind and will do their utmost to guarantee your continued success.
4. Relax and Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor – If you have followed the steps outlined above, you should now be in a place where you can ease off a bit. Perhaps you can enjoy that lengthy vacation that you have been thinking about or maybe you can cut back the work a bit. If all the pieces are in place and you have someone or a few people who really care about the practice, you should be able to work less without sacrificing anything and with peace of mind that there will be smooth sailing ahead.
So instead of ignoring succession planning or leaving it to a last-minute scramble, embrace the concept of it. Bringing others into the fold does not lessen your role in the law practice or render you expendable. Rather, it will give you the opportunity to impart the knowledge you have gained to others and watch them flourish and succeed. Ultimately it will allow you to fully realize the value of your life’s work while also providing you with some well-earned time off to relax and enjoy all that you have developed.