employment. If you break your leg, you
would immediately seek medical attention,
followed by physical therapy to work toward
rehabilitation. We try to plan for these types
of unanticipated life events by common measures, such as keeping (ideally) a year’s worth
of savings and maintaining health insurance.
And for most of us, we spend hours thinking
through the “what if” scenarios to ensure we
But we don’t always think of everything.
Last year, I received a phone call from the
hospital. An emergency room doctor told
me that my father had unexpectedly passed
away. His heart had stopped at his desk while
he was on a conference call—not the way any
of us envision going.
The months that followed his death were
We learned after my father’s death that
he had failed to transfer certain assets into
the trust and didn’t finalize his estate. Therefore, my family, with the help of some talented attorneys, had to pull together and
unravel a lifetime of financial matters. But
while this was wildly inconvenient and costly
to our immediate family, the lack of succession planning in his business was much more
At 73 years old, my father ran the day-to-day operations of a large family company. As we discovered, there wasn’t a backup plan or a prepared successor to take his
role—despite the fact that there were many
employees who relied on the business operations to feed and provide for their families.
My father was always a plan-ner. He would arrive at the airport three
hours in advance of his flight time. And he
had a 10-year supply of his daily vitamins.
He had once attended the University of
Arizona College of Law—likely drawn toward the logic that required professional
skepticism. He considered himself a “
realist,” but his grandchildren called him
Grumpy. Grumpy was prudent in his spending (unless it was on classic cars) and judicious in his business dealings, and he always
provided us with the baseline for the “most
His closet was filled with “backup” clothing items, duplicates of things he already had,
only new with tags still attached. He also had
replacements for his favorite navy-blue cashmere sweaters, orthopedic shoes, khaki pants
and dress shirts. His garage was filled with
20 gasoline cans, he purchased gold as hard
currency, and he maintained a somewhat
self-sustaining farmhouse in Kansas.
He looked ahead.
But while he was prepared for the end of
the world, he was, ironically, not prepared
for the end of his life.
Of course, we all know that life is filled
with unforeseen events. Often when unexpected circumstances arise, we are able to
correct or modify our plans to accommodate
these unanticipated changes. We all do that
in our own lives.
For instance, if you unexpectedly lose
your job, you could work through the steps
of preparing your resume and finding new
DAVID FRENCH is the founder and managing
director of D. French Advisors, a legal recruiting
firm. He and his team strive to be an extension
of law firms and corporations, giving candidates
a great opportunity to find the right fit. The firm
is committed to strengthening the local legal industry by guiding firms to plan for a stable future
through both strategic growth initiatives and comprehensive succession planning.
In addition, many other companies relied on
the services provided by our family business.
Even though age 73 is not considered old
these days, my father should have had plans
in motion to ensure there was continuity for
both the business and its clients. Many of
us do not like thinking about mortality and
death, but I now know from experience how
important it is to face those difficult realities
and to make the decision to plan ahead before unforeseen life events occur.
When we launched our legal recruiting
and advisory firm, a big part of our business
plan was servicing the baby boomer generation of lawyers, many of whom we knew
would be seeking to retire or change their
workload in the coming years. We knew our
assistance could include anything from finding a new purpose for them within their existing firms, to helping both small and large
firms with senior partners navigate succession planning to ensure continuity for both
the firm and clients.
During our first few years of business, we
also have encountered a number of firms and
solo practitioners struggling to recover after
encountering adverse situations, such as the
death of a partner or even simply not paying
attention to rising overhead costs.
Many of these recovery problems are pre-ventable with a little planning. Just as people
are advised to create wills to settle their estates, lawyers are encouraged to create succession plans to ensure that both partners
and clients will not be left out in the cold
when the unexpected occurs. Particularly in
BY DAVID FRENCH
Preparing Your Law Firm’s Future