Unusual succession plan works for two attorneys

By Jim Kendall

This column originally appeared in the October 27, 2014 Daily Herald

 

Finding a successor to bring into your solo practice isn’t often as easy as looking across the hall, but that’s where Glen Ellyn attorney Rick Lofgren found Charles Wentworth.

That’s only part of the story, however: Lofgren gave Wentworth a piece of the business to come aboard. Yes. Gave.

“I didn’t make him buy in,” Lofgren says, “and he’s not an employee. He was a shareholder right out of the gate. It’s a small share, but it’s a share.”

The two are not exactly equal owners at Glen Ellyn-based Entrepreneur’s Legal Resources. “I kept his percentage low,” says Lofgren, who is super majority owner in the firm, “but I told (Wentworth) I would take care of his compensation.

“What I want Charles to get is almost all of the business he generates, less expenses. I want to make sure he’s around a long time.”

Perhaps more importantly, the two share decisions and the inevitable investments in the business. Investments, whether new equipment or the hiring of a marketing firm, are 50-50, Lofgren says. “We’re building something together.”

Nearly two years in, Lofgren’s succession plan seems to be working.

“I watched (Wentworth) from across the hall for a couple of years,” Lofgren says. “I’ve had my own practice for 20 years, and I’ve had several small partnerships. I had been searching high and low” for an attorney who could become Lofgren’s successor when Wentworth, fresh from leaving a large downtown law firm, opened his own practice across the hall.

In the casual way that compatible professionals get acquainted, “We got to know each other,” Wentworth says. “(Lofgren) even said I could borrow his (law) books if I needed to.”

Wentworth eventually moved to assist another local attorney who was preparing to retire, but the two would “bump into each other” and talk.

In the meantime, other attorneys were noticing Wentworth.

“It took me a long time to pull the trigger,” Lofgren says now. “He had done some work for some of my colleagues, and they all wanted him badly. And a larger firm offered him a job,” but, Lofgren says, by that time Wentworth “had caught the entrepreneurial bug.”

“Rick offered,” Wentworth relates. “And I got a call from a headhunter, and another firm out here was interested.

“I’d been out a while and I liked being my own boss. I had learned how to make a go of it, and I had no desire to go back” to a larger firm environment.

Lofgren won out, and succession became less of a concern.

“I’m certainly the junior partner,” Wentworth says, “but I don’t have plans to go anywhere.

“Rick’s offer wasn’t a huge surprise. It was more of a natural progress in our relationship. It felt right.

”We get along really well. We have similar ideas on the work-life balance. We even both wear polo shirts and jeans” to the office.

 

© 2014 Kendall Communications Inc. Follow Jim Kendall on LinkedIn and Twitter. Write him at Jim@kendallcom.com. Listen to Jim’s Business Owners’ Pod Talk at www.kendallcom.com.

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