Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant. – Robert Louis Stevenson
First, fail to plan for transition.
This is where most practitioners miss the boat. They figure that they will wind down and gradually disappear into the sunset. They assume there is no value in their business with exception of the physical assets. They might sell the building that they owned and might liquidate furnishings and quit marketing altogether. Isn’t that what lawyers do? Take on less and less business as the client base dries up and then one day, they announce that they are retired. Not once do they consider the value of the good will that they have established over the years and why not. We are never trained to retire from practice or to convert the value of our business to cash. We only exit the practice of law once in our lives, so we have no experience doing this. With very rare exceptions, lawyers practice law, they do not liquidate legal entities.
Second, plan to fail.
Hire recent grads, work them to death, yell at them and do everything you can to make them want to bolt from your firm. Burn them out. After all, milking them for every ounce of possible excitement in the practice of law is what we are about. Generate as much income as possible and when that new associate leaves, there will be many more lining up to fill that slot. There is no incentive, with the surplus of new grads, to treat them well. Give no thought to bringing in someone who is a good fit and who might help you build or revive your practice. Do not look for someone who has enthusiasm and willingness to help you see the potential to expand your practice areas. Do not tap into their knowledge of social media to help you market your practice to a new and expanded market. Whatever you do, do not allow them to show you how to leverage technology for greater efficiency. Put them in the back room away from your loyal clients so that they will never get to know your new associate. That way, any good will you have established can be lost forever.
Third, have no plan whatsoever.
Loose the fire you had when you opened your practice. Do no planning at all. Just run on like you will live forever. Do not immagine exiting practice at all. Die at your desk. Let the State Bar handle liquidation of your business when you die. Leave your loved ones with a mess and your clients hanging regarding your transition from life to death. If you do this, they will sense your waning interest and maybe, if you are bad enough, they won’t ever return and your dream of retirement will come true even before you die.
Fourth, let your clients know that you have no plan.
Actually, it will become apparent with little effort on your part. The days you post a note on your door, “Please call this number to reach alternative counsel as I will not be in my office two days a week.” or better yet, do nothing. Just don’t show up for work and check your answering machine a few times a week to see if anyone is calling. Then when you speak to them, make sure that the times you are available are few and far between. Make it as inconvenient as possible for them to see you in person and eventually, they will stop calling.
Fifth, die leaving others to clean up and close out your practice.
This is the best rule to follow to make certain that your practice has no value left. Leave a mess for others to clean up after you die. Let them figure out where your accounts are located, how much is owed to you and what you owe to others. Hide your file storage key or place your files in a rental stall that floods, is crawling with vermin and contains mountains of paper files that someone else has to destroy by paying someone to shred all of them. But make sure that it is disorganized so that no one will know the real status of all your active cases. Take any case that comes through the door whether you are competent to handle it or not. Don’t invoice every month – better yet, do it indiscriminately and do not itemize your bills so that your charges appear to be excessive and leave the clients with plenty of room to challenge them. When clients don’t pay, ignore them and keep doing work for those clients even though they refuse to pay.
If you follow these rules, I can guarantee (unless you have gold bullion stored in your file cabinets) that your practice will have nothing of value to transfer to a purchaser. In fact, if you follow these rules, it is more likely that your practice will implode and your professional career might come to a screeching halt when your health or mental status fails.
So, it is up to you and no one else how this saga will end. . . .