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Lee NorcrossMost lawyers professional liability insurance carriers require a backup attorney or they will not issue a policy for a solo practitioner.   Frequently the solo attorney will ask why this is a requirement. 

The solo attorney protests that that they do not need a backup attorney as they do not have court appearances to be covered or filing deadlines.  If the attorney is ill or out for a few days it is not big deal.  So why won’t the malpractice insurance carrier just waive that requirement.

It is important for a solo attorney to remember that they are running a small business.  They may have employees that need to be paid.  Bills and all of the mundane reporting that businesses need to do to meet local, state and federal requirements continue regardless of status for the practice.  In addition, they may have dependents and clients that that depend on them.

Beyond that, an attorney’s obligations to clients and the courts are not terminated due to retirement, incapacity or even death.  Not all issues to an attorney’s capacity are related to old age.  The world as a whole is unpredictable.  Attorneys need to have plans in place to meet these unpredictable events before they happen.

In addition, as the boomer generation continues to get older, succession-planning becomes even more important. Failure to have plans in place to ensure the successful transitioning of open matters, including a process for designating a lead lawyer and addressing the risks of lost files and documents, missed deadlines and court appearances, and more could lead to a malpractice claim.

The last thing in the world that the conscientious attorney wants to have happen is having staff and dependents struggling to deal with not only the loss of the attorney, but suddenly being thrust into the business of the law firm, clients and court obligations without preparation or a plan.

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