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Preparing for the Future: How to Create an Effective Succession and Exit Plan for Your Law Firm
October 6, 2023

1. Introduction

Developing a successful succession and exit plan is crucial for any law firm’s long-term sustainability and growth. Furthermore, not having a plan for the future of your law firm can pose regulatory risks and cause damage not only to the firm itself but also its staff and clients. It is crucial to approach the exit of partners and address retirement plans while simultaneously developing and promoting new partners and potential equity partners. By creating a comprehensive succession and exit plan, you can align the exit plans of existing partners with those of future partners, ensuring a robust succession plan that safeguards the firm and its value.

Unfortunately, many firms neglect or delay this process, often neglecting the exit of owners, whether planned or unexpected and the repercussions it may have on the firm and its stakeholders.

In this article, our compliance team highlights some of the critical aspects of creating an effective succession and exit plan for your law firm and offers insights on addressing potential challenges.

2. Why a Well-Considered Succession Plan Matters

A successful succession and exit strategy should encompass critical components and considerations, including the following examples:

Identifying the plans of current partners:

  • Determine retirement timelines and activity reduction plans to incorporate into the overall succession plan.
  • Align existing partners’ exit plans with the future partners’ goals to ensure a smooth transition.

Addressing sudden and unexpected exits:

  • Establish protocols for handling unforeseen departures to minimise disruption and maintain stability.
  • Develop contingency plans to mitigate risks associated with unexpected exits.

Providing a path to equity for future partners:

  • Clearly define expectations and requirements for aspiring partners, allowing them to progress towards equity partnership.
  • Provide guidance and mentorship programs to prepare future partners for increased responsibilities.

Considering finance options for equity buy-ins:

  • Explore financing alternatives to facilitate new partners’ investment in the firm’s equity.
  • Evaluate various funding options such as loans, external investors, or internal profit-sharing mechanisms.

Addressing the financial aspects of exiting partners:

  • Develop a plan to handle the financial considerations of partners leaving, including the release of their capital.
  • Ensure a fair and equitable distribution of resources during the transition process.

Identifying and preparing future partners:

  • Identify potential future partners and ensure they receive adequate training and development opportunities.
  • Equip future partners with the necessary skills and knowledge required for successful partnership.

Regulation:

  • Stay informed about regulatory requirements and compliance standards that may impact succession planning, enabling you to meet legal obligations effectively.
  • Failing to address succession and exit plans could breach mandatory principles of the SRA Code of Conduct (8. Run your business or carry out your role in the business effectively and in accordance with proper governance and sound financial and risk management principles).
  • Ensure legal obligations are met by regularly reviewing and adjusting the plan accordingly.
  • If an existing owner holds a regulatory position, who will replace the role they leave behind, and on what terms?

Updating and reviewing the partnership or shareholders agreement:

  • Review and revise the agreement to protect the interests of both existing and new partners during the transition period.
  • Ensure that the agreement aligns with the goals and objectives of the succession plan and clearly sets out rights, responsibilities, restrictions and restrictive covenants and processes to protect all partners and the firm.

Addressing the impact on the firm, clients, and staff:

  • Mitigate any potential loss of client relationships or valuable skills resulting from an exiting partner.
  • Communicate transparently with clients and staff about the firm’s succession plans to maintain confidence and trust.

Merger or sale:

  • Consider merger or sale options as alternative strategies for ensuring the firm’s continuity and preserving client relationships.
  • Evaluate potential mergers or acquisition opportunities that align with the firm’s long-term goals.

Closure of the firm:

  • In extreme cases where a continuation is not feasible, plan for an orderly closure that minimises negative impacts on staff, clients, and reputation.
  • Develop a comprehensive plan to wind down operations that covers regulatory obligations, financial consequences, staff redundancy, operational requirements, archiving and closing or transferring client files, etc.

3. Strategies for a Successful Succession Plan:

By implementing a comprehensive succession and exit plan and addressing potential challenges head-on, law firm owners can ensure a seamless transition, preserve valuable expertise, and maintain client confidence. Remember, creating an effective succession and exit plan cannot happen overnight. It requires careful consideration, open communication, and a willingness to adapt to changing circumstances.

At The Strategic Partner, we have the expertise and experience to guide firms through this process. We specialise in developing succession and exit plans that meet the goals of current partners while complying with regulatory expectations and requirements. Our services extend beyond planning and include training and mentoring programs for future partners, equipping them with the necessary confidence and skillsets to become equity partners and decision-makers.

We work with firms and their owners to deliver a succession plan that addresses all the key issues and is supported by the current and potential new owners to ensure that the firm can thrive and not face the negative consequences of poor planning.

For more information on our expertise in this area and other related services we provide, please download our service brochures:

4. Regulation and Compliance Guidance for Law Firms

At The Strategic Partner, we aim to empower firms to effectively manage risk, compliance, and regulation, allowing them to focus on delivering exceptional service to their clients.

Our services are designed to provide firms and their employees with the comfort of knowing that even in the busiest of times, you remain compliant and can evidence that you are.

We can offer expert guidance and support, including:

  • Risk Management and Compliance Review – A review of the firm’s approach to regulation and compliance to include all regulatory requirements and AML procedures. The output of this provides the firm with a written gap analysis and solutions to remedy any issues.
  • Risk Assessment Service and Independent AML Audit – A review of the firm’s approach to regulation and compliance to include all regulatory requirements and AML procedures. The output of this provides the firm with a written gap analysis and solutions to remedy any issues.
  • Regulation 21 AML 2017 Independent Audit – An audit that reviews the firm’s approach to regulation and compliance, including AML procedures, and meets the requirements of Regulation 21 of the AML 2017. The output will provide the firm with a written gap analysis and solutions to remedy any issues discovered and ensure compliance.
  • Training and Education– We offer customised training programs to educate your staff on AML regulations, source of funds and source of wealth enquiries, risk assessment, and suspicious activity detection. Our training ensures that your team has the knowledge and skills to fulfil their compliance responsibilities.
  • Auditing– Procedural staff, systems, and files to ensure the procedures are up to the required standard and being implemented at case level with a report of the outcome.
  • Ongoing Compliance Support – Our experts provide ongoing support and guidance, keeping you up-to-date with the latest AML regulations and best practices. We offer regular compliance reviews, advice on complex cases, and assistance with regulatory reporting requirements.

Packaged Solutions – Implementation of robust solutions to ensure the firm achieves compliance and then maintains compliance through the provision of ongoing support and assistance:

5. Get in Touch with The Strategic Partner

For more information on The Strategic Partner and to discuss how we may be able to assist in accelerating your risk management or compliance and regulation or simply to keep this up to date, you can call us on 020 3911 9710 or email us info@thestrategicpartner.co.uk.

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