How to Transition Clients When Succession Planning

If you’re a solo or small firm owner thinking of selling your law firm, for certain practice areas, transitioning repeat clients to the buyer is key. Indeed, the primary reason your firm has value and has a willing buyer are those client relationships that took years to build.

Transitioning clients successfully requires managing and finessing human relationships, a task that—even with the best of intentions—is never easy. Everyone has the same goals, including quality, predictability, and trust. Will your successor meet your existing clients’ goals?

Do They Know What They Are Doing?

Initially, you need to ensure that your successor has the necessary expertise and client/industry knowledge. Some buyers may need more training/mentoring than others.

Does It Feel Right?

Second, you need to make sure your clients feel the requisite “comfort and chemistry” that is so crucial for any successful lawyer-client relationship. That could be as simple as an bringing them together for an extended lunch or having buyer and seller work together on a project, or even multiple projects. Never take the client for granted. The last thing you should assume is that simply because you recommend a successor, the client will agree to it. Building the relationship will take effort on everyone’s part.

Finally, time should be set aside to accommodate any adjustments to the plan that may be needed. There will be inevitable bumps in the road that will require some time to absorb shocks and make any necessary repairs.

Remember, a comprehensive client-transition succession plan actually involves multiple plans. You need one for each client. Some may be more extensive than others. Remember, however, that all clients are not created equal. Allocate the bulk of your time and efforts to the clients that are most crucial to the firm’s bottom line.

Developing the Plan

To put together a client transition plan, make sure you ask the following questions:

  • Who are the important clients?
  • What types of training and mentoring, if any, does the buyer need? How long will that take?
  • What are the clients’ concerns about losing you as their attorney? How can you address those concerns?
  • Are any of your key clients going through their own transition process? Do you have a relationship with their next generation?
  • How will your successor lawyer be introduced to clients—both socially and in a working relationship?

The answers to these questions will provide an excellent starting point for developing a plan. And don’t kid yourself; you need to plan. Without it, your clients may not receive the high level of quality work and service that you’ve provided all of these years—or stick around long enough to find out whether they will.

Feel free to reach out to me to discuss this further. You can reach me at 612-524-5837 or you can contact me online.