Bench & Bar of Minnesota is the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

Succession planning matters. Have you done it?

I work for Farmers Insurance Company. And because I do work for a large company, my succession plan is already in place. When I can no longer practice due to disability, retirement, or death, Farmers will step in and name my replacement. This will result in a seamless transition regarding the service my office provides to our clients. My question to you is: What is your succession plan? 

If you are with a large firm or company, your plan may be similar to mine. If you are a sole practitioner or in a small firm, you need to put your own plan in place. If you don’t do anything, and can no longer practice, the Supreme Court will end up appointing the executive director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility (OLPR) to be the trustee of your files and trust account. 

The Iowa example

OLPR Director Susan Humiston will know what needs to be done, because her office handles a few situations like this every year. 

But this does not mean she will assign an attorney from her office to come in and take up your clients’ legal needs. The job of the OLPR attorney is simply to make sure files get back to your clients and the trust account is properly distributed. The assigned attorney may or may not be familiar with your area of practice, won’t know your clients, and won’t be trying to keep your practice going. They will only be trying to wrap things up in an orderly fashion. 

Right now Iowa has a rule in place requiring succession planning. Iowa R. Civ. P. 39.18(1) requires the designation of a successor. The successor can be a qualified attorney-servicing association, an Iowa law firm that includes Iowa attorneys in good standing, or an active Iowa attorney in good standing. The designated attorney is authorized to review files and determine whether any immediate action on behalf of clients is required. The successor is also authorized to deal with any client trust account. The Iowa Bar Association has made arrangements to become a qualified attorney-servicing association. The Illinois State Bar Association is working on a similar rule. And several other states are likewise considering succession rules.

What to do?

This brings us to the question of what our bar association should do to address this issue. Right now the Rules of Professional Conduct Committee has formed a subcommittee to examine this issue. They are going to reach out to get input on the issue from the OLPR, Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, and Minnesota Lawyers Mutual. The subcommittee is going to determine whether the Rules of Professional Conduct Committee will make a recommendation on this topic to our General Assembly in June 2019. 

If you are interested in this topic, and don’t want to wait until June to make succession plans, I would encourage you to review what Susan Humiston wrote on the issue for Bench & Bar a couple of years ago. In her article, (“What happens to clients upon your death or disability?” November 2016), she made some suggestions on formulating a plan and gave direction on where to find resources to help you plan. 

If you currently lack a succession plan, please take action right away. It is the right thing to do for yourself, your partners, your family, and most importantly, your clients. You are in the best position to know what your clients need. Make sure that when you are no longer able to practice, your successor will know what needs to be done to provide great service to your clients.


PAUL GODFREY is the Managing Attorney for the Twin Cities Branch Legal Office for Farmers Insurance. He is a trial attorney. He has tried more than 40 cases to jury verdict, with issues ranging from claims for whiplash to claims for wrongful death. 

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