He died.

Dropped dead from a ruptured aneurysm in the brain.


A senior attorney at a prominent law firm, a guy who brought in a LOT of business.  We’re talkin’ a thriving high six-figure practice.

It was a tragic event for his family, his friends … and his firm.  Tragic for the firm in that they lost someone they were close to, but they also lost a leader, a mainstay of the firm, and someone who really knew his way around … not just the firm, but the entire city.  He was a repository of knowledge … a wise and savvy man.

And now he’s gone.

Good thing the firm had come up with a plan for him to mentor a junior level female partner to learn from him and get more actively involved with serving his clients, so when the time came for him to retire, there’d be a smooth transition.  The clients would already know and trust the junior partner and the firm would be more likely to retain their business.

She was a good choice…smart, eager, service oriented…ready to learn.

The plan was solid.  He’d mentor her on how to build and maintain a relationship with a client.  They’d co-write articles/blogs together to get her some visibility.  They’d co-present at an industry conference. The goal?  Seamless integration and transition.  He’d incorporate her into his interactions with clients and prospective clients more routinely, steadily giving her more and more responsibility and visibility.

This “succession planning” would be a five year process.  You don’t learn the fine points of business development and client retention overnight.  This goes for all service based professions.

It was an excellent plan.  But you know how the urgent has a way of shouldering out the important in your daily activities, causing you to fight fires and deal with emergent issues vs. focusing on important long term goals?

Well, guess what happened?

He had his hands full, so he procrastinated on integrating the junior partner into the practice.

The junior partner felt it wasn’t her place to bug him. She would check in with him periodically to see if she could be helpful … work on his cases, go with him to meet clients and prospective clients, etc.  She would point out industry conferences where they could be co-presenters.  She would give ideas of topics they could write about as co-authors and even offered to do all the research and writing.  He would always receive these ideas/requests positively, but just never got around to including her in any of his business or client development activities.

And now, he’s gone.

What happened in this case is the young woman in question was asked to take over his practice, but she didn’t have the knowledge of how to maintain, much less grow the practice.

The firm thought the clients would stay with them.  Their strategy?  Send an announcement to them.  Maybe even call some of them to tell them personally.

But it doesn’t work like that.  There was a bond of trust and friendship there that isn’t easily substituted for.

Within four months, the high six-figure book of business had dwindled down toward $200,000.  It was no surprise really.  Clients felt connected to the lawyer who passed away…not the firm.  And since they didn’t feel any real connection with the new person taking over the practice, they left.  They took their business to other lawyers in other firms who had been wooing them all along.

It didn’t have to be that way.

With more active and timely engagement, the result would have been different…a win-win for everyone involved.

For the firm…continuity and higher client retention rates.

For the clients…good, seamless service and confidence they have someone knowledgeable looking out for them.

For the person stepping into the role…opportunity, plus the knowledge, skills and confidence needed to succeed.

For the retiring senior partner…the peace of mind of knowing his clients will be well served and his firm won’t be left scrambling to pick up the pieces.

A graceful transition…it takes planning, it takes time and commitment, and follow-through.

And the time to start the process…is now.


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About the Author

Barbara Mencer specializes in working with attorneys, CPAs, and other professional service providers and their firms to help them grow their businesses. She can be reached at Barbara@Rainmaker-Strategies.com