Coverage in Case of Absence and Succession Plan

The Basics

Although in New Brunswick you are not required to do so, there are many good reasons for arranging for someone to provide coverage for you in the event that you are unable to carry on your work, become disabled or in the event of your death.  If you are unexpectedly absent from work for a long period, your personal life is obviously affected, but the lives of your clients are as well. Lawyers have a professional obligation to guard against acting in a way that would prejudice their clients.  In light of this, you should establish a plan that ensures that your clients will be protected in the event of a long-term absence from your practice.
It is particularity important to have an arrangement with another lawyer to step in to ensure that your clients are not prejudiced if you are a sole practitioner or work in a very small firm.  Consider developing a relationship with another lawyer who has expertise in the area of law you practise.  You may arrange to provide coverage for each other when it is needed. In making such arrangement, you must be mindful of issues of confidentiality and conflict. 
The following checklist may help you prepare for planned absences from the office:
  • Ensure that your voicemail and email auto-reply are updated and provide information such as:
    • who to contact if the matter is urgent;
    • when you plan to return;
    • whether you will be checking and responding to messages while away.  If you are unable to respond to your messages while you are away, clearly say so.
  • Ensure that the lawyer who is overseeing your practice during your absence is able to contact you.
  • Consider establishing a power of attorney with financial institutions to enable the successor to access general accounts as well as trust accounts, and have the authority to continue the practice.
  • Develop a system such as a different password protected “login” ID to safeguard your personal information if you use your computers for personal communications or documents.
  • Contact opposing counsel on files to let them know you will be away, and advise them who they can contact in your absence. This is a matter of professional courtesy and ensures that there is no gap in your client’s representation. It may also minimize the likelihood that you receive time sensitive documents from opposing counsel while you are away.
See Contingency Planning Guide prepared by the Law Society of Ontario for more relevant information.