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The Benefits and Risks of Turning a Law Firm into a Family Business - Solo Small Firm Practice News

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Solo Small Firm Practice News


Posted on: Dec 4, 2019

By John Mervilde, Meils Thompson Dietz & Berish

A recent Indiana Lawyer issue includes an article about several firms in which siblings, or parents and their adult children, practice law together. While not unheard of in larger firms, these arrangements typically are the stuff of small firms. Unsurprisingly, the attorneys who agreed to be profiled in the Indiana Lawyer are both personally and professionally successful.  

A recent article in Slate (actually a transcript of a podcast called "How To!"), and headlined "A father wants to fire his own daughter to sell the family business," shows the other side of the coin. While the Slate article discusses an insurance agency rather than a law firm, many of the father/owner's concerns could arise in a law firm. The father admits that his daughter is very good at the core business (selling insurance), but still does not consider her a "good employee." Is she really that bad or is the father carrying over disputes from the daughter's childhood into the work relationship? He seems in some ways to still regard her as a defiant teenager. The host notes that she counsels family businesses to require family members to work somewhere else for two years before joining the family business and wonders if the daughter's leaving the firm for a couple of years might lead to a successful transfer of ownership later.

Obviously, there are no bright line rules for such arrangements. Many successful and happy attorneys have gone directly from law school into family firms. But while success stories such as those that the Indiana Lawyer tells are what everyone hopes for and expects, it is worth considering the potential pitfalls that could arise from combining the personal and professional.

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