50 Ways to Leave Your Lawyer (Part II)

Last week, I looked at why business clients are reluctant to leave law firms carrying out their legal work. This week I look at what you need to do having decided to transfer your work from one legal services supplier to another.

There is no great science in transferring your work. If that transfer is not properly planned, there is likely to be rancor, inefficiency and untidy “trailing wires” from the former relationship. So plan the transition carefully and ensure that you monitor progress on all the elements of your plan.

Understand how the “exiting” supplier is feeling about your decision to move the work. There may be defensiveness or animosity, particularly if the transfer is as a result of a major breakdown in relations. Similarly, even if you have had the most transparent and fair procurement process, there is a strong possibility that they may be feeling sore about it, particularly if they invested heavily in that process for no reward. Conversely, do not be surprised if they are exhibiting signs that they are secretly relieved that your business is no longer their client.

Being professional includes being empathetic. It works both ways and you need to promote that approach. After all, you never know when your paths may cross again and in what circumstances that will happen. Be clear and honest about why you have made your decision. Accept that they may have issues that they want to get off their chest. Avoid getting personal. It is only business, after all.

Once you have told them of your decision, you should be prepared to deal with the following things:

Ongoing Work: They will probably be working on current cases for your business. Draw up a criterion for when that work will be transferred to the new supplier. There may be different stages for different cases. Resist the temptation to leave work with them unless there is an overwhelming reason to do otherwise (such as you are in the middle of a litigation trial). The long-term benefits of an early move outweigh the upheaval of transfer.

Documents: Make sure that they transfer all your documents and current records to the new supplier. This should include current case papers, transaction bibles, property documents and electronic files (you may need a migration programme for large portfolios of cases). They will probably want to keep a copy of your files for insurance purposes; so decide which files must be transferred and which they can hold, but that you may need access to in future.

Knowledge Management: if the supplier created training materials and any other knowledge management documents for you, you should ensure that the ownership is either transferred to you or that you are licensed to use them in future.

Billing: Pay them up to date, settling your outstanding bills on the relevant terms. Do not expect any preferential discounts for work that they do in the transitional period; after all, you ended things. In the same vein, agree a cut off point after which no further bills will be rendered. Nothing hacks of your Finance Department more than stray bills coming in from former suppliers months (and even years) after the work was done.

Undertakings: A law firm may have given undertakings in the past on your business’s behalf. These should be in the Undertakings Register of the firm. They should be discharged where possible or, in respect of transferring work, re-negotiated so that the new supplier steps into their place.

Communications: make sure that you agree a plan to ensure that all internal and external communications are co-ordinated. You owe it to each other to speak with one voice.

Finally, whilst this blog is not about giving legal advice, you should already have checked that no members of the outgoing supplier’s staff are transferred to you or the new supplier under the Transfer of Undertakings legislation. If they are, you should already have negotiated the appropriate transfer arrangements including indemnities.

Properly carrying out these arrangements should ensure that you have an orderly and relatively stress free end to the working relationship.  In the long run, that will be good for everyone, as you can both carry on your respective businesses with the minimum of disruption.

Postscript: I could not finish today without a special mention for Jonathan Trott. My heart goes out to him as I have “managed” depression for years.  Depression is not about being a “weak” person. It is about suffering from a serious, debilitating illness. You can be supremely talented, as he is, yet the illness will cut you down; just like any other severe condition; be it cancer, diabetes or heart problems.

His gutsy, full on approach to cricket helped me through an awful period in my life. Get well soon Jonathan and thank you for all your fantastic performances for England.


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