California
Attorney Ethics Counsel

June 16, 2021

Ethical Issues in Succession Planning at Your Firm

Planning for succession at your firm is a good idea for business reasons. It may mean that you can retire comfortably, having been compensated for the business you built, or it may mean that your family has a clear picture of what to expect if something unexpected should happen. Most importantly, however, a proper succession plan ensures that your clients’ interests are protected in the event that something happens to a lawyer or to the firm.

California’s legal ethics rules do not require that attorneys adopt a succession plan. But compliance with the ethics rules seems unlikely without one. The duty of diligence (CRPC Rule 1.3(a) and (b)), the duty of competence (Rule 1.1(a)), and the duty of loyalty each require attorneys and firms to avoid taking or exposing their clients to risks that place their clients’ interests in peril. Attorneys also have a duty to avoid reasonably foreseeable prejudice in terminating a client representation under CRPC Rule 1.16(a). What could be more perilous or prejudicial for a client than having an attorney suddenly disappear from handling a matter with no plan for someone else to handle it?

A well-developed succession plan will prevent that peril and meet these ethical obligations.  For more information on succession planning and how it is also good for your business, see “Succession Planning for (Dearly) Departed Partners.”

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