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The General’s Story

The LAP received a call on the afternoon of July 24, 2007, from the daughter of an aging attorney. She said that she needed assistance to help her 90-year-old father close his law practice. Though I did not speak with the woman, my initial impression was that she was seeking to have someone from the Bar come down and tell her father it was time to retire and close his practice. Hoping this was not the case, I agreed to meet with her the following day. I drove to the town where the attorney practiced and made arrangements to meet his daughter at a local coffee shop. Much to my relief, she said that her father understood that he needed to close his practice, but seemed to be stuck in the details of the process. She shared with me these facts about her father.

He was a deputy council with over 50 years of service to the State Bar. He was a WWII veteran and a retired general. In the previous year he had lost his wife after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, he was treated for cancer and had a recent reoccurrence that required surgery and an extended stay in a rehabilitation facility, the attorney who most recently worked with him had left the office, a secretary had stolen $25,000 from his business, and a former secretary had returned to help out, but had abandoned the work due to drug dependence.

Her father was somewhat frail and had trouble keeping his thoughts straight. He could not drive—his daughter chauffeured him to and from court appearances—so I agreed to go to the office, a couple of blocks away, to meet with him. After driving there, as we were about to enter the building, she cautioned me that his appearance and his hearing had been significantly affected by the treatment related to his cancer. He was frail and one side of his face was paralyzed.

When I entered his office the General stood to greet me, every bit the southern gentleman. He extended his hand and thanked me warmly for coming, offered me a seat and refreshments, and began, almost immediately, to give me a detailed history of the building. His daughter tried to get him to focus, but I made time.

A few stories later, we moved onto practical concerns. I asked what arrangements had been made with regard to the office space. I was told that the building was sold in May to the business next door. A “gentlemen’s agreement” had been in place since that time. He was expected to vacate by the end of the month, less than one week away.

That was simply not doable. Though it was not functioning well, it was still a functioning office, clients in and out, computers up and running, and phones ringing. Some packing had been done, but not enough to be out in a week with any semblance of order.
As we began to discuss our options, the General looked at me with his eyes welling slightly and said, “I want to thank you for your service and your sympathy.” I assured him that I had respect and admiration for him, but not sympathy. I told him that I understood that this could be a very hard process, and the LAP was simply there to help. For me, the process was about effectively and respectfully closing the General’s practice and doing all we could do to preserve its dignity.

When I inquired with whom we might discuss an extension, the General again launched into a litany of names and affiliations, including lineage and church membership. After a couple of minutes I simply asked, “Do you think you and I could go over and see one of the men at the business next door?”

“Yes,” he believed we could.

It was a short distance, but the General’s days of moving quickly were gone. The walk took longer than it might, and was again filled with stories and a history lesson. When we entered the business, everyone spoke warmly. The General asked to speak to the chairman of the board. When we enter the chairman’s office, the General asked that I do the talking.

I introduced myself and explained that I had come to help close the office. I asked what, if any, arrangements could be made with regard to extending occupancy of the office for one month. The chairman agreed. Of course, it would have been much more than a month before the business would have taken any action to force the General out. The meeting was about respect, not avoiding eviction.

Next, we needed to address the caseload. The General could offer very little. His daughter advised that the former secretary had been making an inventory when she was last seen in the office, but we were unable to locate her work. I decided we might be able to work backward from the court’s docket. Most of the remaining active cases were in the local chancery court, so we contacted its administrator. The administrator forwarded us a list of all cases on which the General was counsel of record. We then met with the judge so that we could better understand the procedural posture of the various matters to ensure that each case was more effectively referred. We then began identifying attorneys to whom the General might refer the current cases and any new matters.

I arranged to accompany the General as he met with one of the lawyers and explained the need for confidentiality when making referrals. He agreed and I asked if he would be willing to accept referrals from the General as he closed his practice. The lawyer assured us that he would be more than willing to do so. The meeting afforded the General a great peace of mind.

Next, the General and I addressed his staff. I explained to everyone in the office that my role was to facilitate, but not to represent clients or give them legal advice. I gave them some guidance on reasonable next steps. I told them that any new calls, unless from long-time clients, should be immediately referred elsewhere, and made clear my expectation was to close the office as quickly and efficiently as possible while confidentially respecting the General’s privacy.

Through the efforts of the local bench and bar, the General was able to get his office closed.

The General died the following year.

When I visited his family before the funeral his granddaughter, also an attorney, repeatedly thanked me for the services the LAP provided to her grandfather and to her family.

The General’s story is a clear indication of the need for services to elder lawyers struggling with leaving the profession. This assistance must be offered in a manner that effectively addresses the practical concerns and protects the interest of the client. Of equal concern for the staff of the LAP is protecting the honor and dignity of our bar’s most senior members.

– By Anonymous

This article was contributed by a staff member of an LAP in another state.

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