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WCBA URGES ATTORNEYS TO PLAN AHEAD

The Westchester County Car Association (WCBA) has launched an initiative to help ensure that attorneys have a plan in place in the event that they retire, pass away or are suddenly unable to continue practicing law.

“The initiative’s mission is to encourage sole and small firm practitioners to plan for the management, dissolution or sale of their law practices upon their retirement, death, or sudden inability to continue practicing law.  In all of these situations, there is a critical need for procedures to be in place to protect the interests of clients and the attorney who is no longer able to practice”, said Law Practice Continuity Committee Chairperson Susan F. Gibralter, Esq.

In contrast to a partnership, where a partner is available to notify clients and assume files, the sole practitioner must take affirmative steps prior to retirement to insure a smooth transition. According to a 2004 New York State Bar Association survey, more than 83% of attorneys in New York State are solo practitioners.

The WCBA is making available to local attorneys a recently-published 160-page resource guide on the subject, “Planning Ahead: Establish an Advance Exit Plan to Protect Your Clients’ Interests in the Event of Your Disability, Retirement or Death.”  The Guide, published by the New York State Bar Association, provides forms, checklists, ethical and professional guidelines, and frequently-asked questions to assist the sole or small firm practitioner. Specific attention is paid to how to keep clients informed, to arrange for the return of their files, to access escrow account funds, and to integrate the advance plan with the attorney’s family, office staff and executor.

The key to an advance exit plan is the selection of another attorney to “pinch hit” in the midst of an unforeseen illness or other event which suddenly renders the attorney unable to continue in practice. “We want to educate attorneys about how to manage a practice under these sudden, but very real, circumstances. Advance planning and cooperation from other attorneys produces the best results for clients and, at the same time, preserves the value of the attorney’s practice which benefits the attorney and his family,” said Ms. Gibralter.

The Guide is now available free of charge to all members of the WCBA, through its website . For those attorneys who are not members of the WCBA, it is available for purchase for $18.00, and includes a reference CD containing relevant forms.

The WCBA has also offered education seminars to attorneys on this topic. CD / DVD copies of the seminar are available through the WCBA. Any attorney interested in finding out about future seminars can contact the WCBA at 914-761-3707 ext.13.   

 To further assist the public, the WCBA has begun to initiate a database of retiring attorneys, maintaining information such as the location of the former attorney’s files and the contact information for the attorney who has taken over the practice. This database can be used by the WCBA to respond to calls it often receives from clients of a retired attorney, or their families, who are seeking the whereabouts of a document, such as a last will and testament.

 By encouraging and assisting Westchester’s attorneys to plan ahead for the cessation of practice, the WCBA is providing a valuable service to the general public.

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