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Succession planning for your law practice

Jeremy Rachlin

Jeremy Rachlin

When I came aboard at Bulman Dunie in April, one of the things that I had to master was our case management system. It was a bit of a learning curve for me because I had not used a case management system since my time as an associate at my very first law firm.

Perhaps the most important aspect of our case management system is the case notes feature. Every single phone call or email of substance, every single client or counsel or court interaction, every single letter or pleading or piece of discovery which is received, is entered as a case note. The case note is often brief and may make liberal use of abbreviations and shorthand. But as one of the principals here at Bulman Dunie explained to me, “If it’s not in the case management system, it didn’t happen in the case.”

It may sound like a real burden to so diligently track these notes. It can be. It may seem like an inordinate amount of time spent on administrative tasks. But the real value in keeping careful case notes in a case management system is for succession planning.

What if a family member (or me) was to fall seriously ill after I leave the office and I am effectively unreachable as I tend to their care (or my own care)? What if I were, for some other reason, suddenly unable to attend to my case files? Cases don’t stop for us. Client needs
don’t stop just because we suddenly are unavailable. As attorneys, we have an ethical obligation to make sure that our clients’ interests are always protected, even (and often) to a point after our representation ends.

Whatever your practice, solo attorney or large firm, there are undoubtedly files that you quarterback where nearly the entire universe of the case lies inside your brain. You are the one person, aside from opposing counsel, who knows what discovery is outstanding. You are the one
person in your office who knows that a motion came in three days prior and a response is due in two weeks’ time. You know the names of the experts you have vetted. Ethically, the buck stops with you as the attorney. Unless this information is recorded to a case file, none of this
information is adequately protected. If something were to happen to you and another attorney stepped in as counsel, your successor counsel should be able to review the file and in short order have a clear understanding of the status of the case.

And it may not be something as dramatic as a serious illness. That two-week trip to Thailand that you’ve been planning? Depending upon your practice, that may be of long enough duration and remote enough from the office that you need to have a system which enable standby counsel to step in should an emergency arise.

Now, excuse me as I bid you farewell to enter in case notes. And I hope to see and meet many of you June 13 at 4 p.m. at Liquid Assets in Ocean City for the Young Lawyers Happy Hour at the Maryland State Bar Association Legal Summit & Annual Meeting.

Jeremy Rachlin is a principal at Bulman, Dunie, Burke & Feld Chtd. in Bethesda, where he practices estates and trusts and civil litigation.