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Refer to the checklist below and consider the other steps mentioned in the winding up process. The checklist offers suggested timelines for when each task should begin, as noted in the number of days out from retirement listed in each heading.
A Master File List will help you keep track of the status of each individual file, monitoring steps, payments and if it can be closed or transferred to another lawyer. Preparing one of these also gives you the opportunity to review every open file to ensure they are well documented. We recommend having a Master File list regardless of your intention to retire, as it is beneficial for many scenarios as part of business continuity and succession planning, as well as firm administration.
Suggested timeline for this: 180 days out
Hopefully you are not holding any original wills, but if you are, contact the testators and return the originals to them. Confirm in writing that you have given them the original and that you have only kept a scanned copy. Have the testator to sign an acknowledgement of receipt.
If you cannot return wills to their owner, consider if you can transfer them to another lawyer.
If you cannot do either of these things, remember that you continue to be responsible for any original wills in your possession, which includes storing them in a secure, fire-proof cabinet. Contact the Law Society to discuss the safe-keeping and tracking of any wills that remain in your possession.
Determine if you agreed to be executor or trustee for any of your clients. If you no longer want to act in that capacity, consider asking the testator to revise their will or to add a codicil to appoint someone else. If the testator cannot be located, one of your options may be to attach a renunciation to the will if you are still holding the original. Consider getting legal advice to determine next steps.
Suggested timeline for this: 180 days out (depending on the number of original wills in your possession)
This is often the hardest step to take because it signals, in many ways, the end of the practice but it is a very important step in the process. Winding up your remaining files and completing administrative tasks should be your focus. The suggested timeline for this step varies considerably depending on the practice area and number of open files. The primary consideration should be whether you will be able to complete the client’s matter before you leave practice.
Suggested timeline for this: A minimum of 120 days out
While this is an important step for all clients, it is particularly important for those in litigation or for corporate clients so that your clients have the time required to obtain new counsel.
Write to your clients with open files to notify them that you will be closing your practice and to let them know that they will need to retain a new lawyer. If appropriate, recommend a lawyer who may be willing to take on their file. Ask them to either pick up their file or sign an authorization for you to release the file to a new lawyer. In your letter to them, tell them about any important deadlines they need to know about.
You can decide when to tell your clients on a case-by-case basis, but you need to consider the timing carefully. There are a number of factors you may identify that help determine when to provide notice, always ensuring the client is not prejudiced by the timing of your withdrawal.
Ask your corporate clients for new addresses for their registered offices, prepare the necessary resolutions and notices, and file a notice of change form with Corporate Registry.
File a change of address notice at the Land Titles Office if you are named in any documents (e.g. builders’ liens, caveats, or certificates of lis pendens).
Legal Aid certificates cannot be transferred to another lawyer. You should notify the appropriate Legal Aid office of the files that are affected, your reason for withdrawing and send a final bill marked ‘Final.’ Notify your client to contact Legal Aid to seek a new lawyer and a new certificate.
Suggested timeline for this: 120 days out/File by file basis
Three months out from your retirement date, you will need to work diligently to ensure every file that you will not be able to complete is reassigned to another lawyer. It is important to note that setting trial dates for these files should be left to the new lawyer.
Arrangements for payment for the work you have completed on contingency files should be documented between you and the lawyer taking over the file, in writing. Those proceeds can be sent to you directly.
Again, though time is important – you need to be sure your files are itemized, clear and organized so that you can meet your obligations to your client. Here is also where you can see the value of the Master File List.
Suggested timeline for this: 90 days out
Storing closed files can be a considerable expense. The current practice is to hold hard or digital copies of closed files for 10 years following the closing date but there are so many considerations – trust safety requirements, file / area of law, client needs and more.
Review closed files to determine whether they should be stored, destroyed, returned to the client, or transferred to the lawyer who will be assuming ongoing files.
Check for, and return, any trust property belonging to the client that is stored separate from the client’s file.
Where file information is stored in electronic format, consider how and where it will be stored and retrieved after wind-up.
Lawyers who change their status from active to inactive must provide the Law Society with the name of the active lawyers who are taking over open files, closed files and wills. If you are transferring your files to multiple lawyers, you need to enter each lawyer and their firm/practicing location individually into the non-practicing disposal list.
See the Law Practice Essentials, File Retention and Disposal module and Lawyer Status and Business Contact Change Guide for more information.
Suggested timeline for this: 90 days out
Review your time records and files for any unbilled work in progress.
Prepare and send accounts to clients for unbilled work in progress and outstanding disbursements.
If the billing is on a contingency file, refer to the provisions in the contingency fee agreement relating to the amount you are entitled to if you withdraw. If the contingency fee agreement does not provide for this, you should reach an agreement on fees with your client and the client’s new lawyer. Please see the Contingency Fee Issues resource for more information.
Have your bookkeeper write off any work in progress you decide not to bill out.
Suggested timeline for this: 75 days out
If you have any original documents held in safekeeping, determine if you are holding them on undertakings, trust conditions, or on some other agreement that continues to apply. Obtain written instructions from the necessary parties to alter the arrangements and to transfer the documents to a new location.
Be sure to obtain an acknowledgement of receipt from whoever accepts these documents.
Suggested timeline for this: 60 days out
After billing clients and deducting fees and disbursements, you must return any remaining trust funds to the clients or distribute them as directed by those clients.
If you have any unclaimed trust funds that you cannot attribute to a client or someone else, then the procedure for paying them out is something the Trust Safety department can assist you with. They will also refer you to the Disbursing the Undisbursable: What to Do with Unclaimed Trust Funds resource and relevant forms for submitting undisbursable trust money that are available on the Law Society website.
Suggested timeline for this: 60 days out
Close all trust accounts, provide confirmation of closure to the Law Society, and file Law Firm Self-Report and Accountant’s Report or Electronic Data Upload – 30 to 60 days out
When it is time to close your trust accounts, it is best to do this in consultation with the Trust Safety department. You may have already been working with them on distributing undisbursable funds so they will be familiar with your situation. Working with them will provide you with guidance and reduce your overall stress about closing your accounts. They will likely remind you that you need to ensure your trust account is at zero dollars.
When you can confirm that your trust account has a zero balance, contact the Trust Safety department and obtain their approval to close the account.
You will need more than just a bank statement showing that there is no money in the account. Written confirmation from the bank proving that the account is closed is required.
When your trust account is closed, you will need to complete your final Law Firm Self-Report and either the final Accountant’s Report or final Electronic Data Upload. Follow the procedure that you normally follow to submit these reports.
The Membership Department will rely on information from the Trust Safety department about the completion of these steps before they change your status from active to inactive or retired. It is helpful to work with both the Trust Safety and Membership departments simultaneously.
Suggested timeline for this: 30 – 60 days out
While you are completing your final trust accounting requirements, connect with the Membership department to make sure that they are aware that you are working to close your trust accounts and intend to change your practice status. They cannot approve your application for inactive status until you close your trust account and can inform you of any other requirements that may be necessary to change your status should you have any outstanding obligations to the Law Society. There is a User Guide that provides instructions on how to change your status through the Lawyer Portal.
Suggested timeline for this: 30 days out
Take one final run through the checklist to make sure you have completed all the steps and there is nothing outstanding.
Confirm with the Law Society that your information is updated and accurate.
Ensure your social media, emails, addresses with suppliers, etc. are also current.
Suggested timeline for this: 14 days out
View a printable schedule/checklist of the retirement tasks.
View the other sections of the guide: