Wyoming's Surrogate Lawyers: Cause for Celebration
Mark W. Gifford, Wyoming State Bar Office of Bar Counsel Cheyenne, Wyoming
Since I last wrote about the need for and importance of surrogate lawyers nearly three years ago (see "Care About Your Clients? Designate a Surrogate!" Wyoming Lawyer, June 2016, p. 12), the age demographic of Wyoming lawyers has continued its shift towards practitioners remaining in active practice farther into their lives. One out of three active members of the Wyoming State Bar is over the age of 60; 20% are over the age of 65; 9% are over the age of 70. For active status members within the state, the numbers are even more dramatic: 37% are over the age of 60; one out of four is over the age of 65; 11% are over the age of 70.
The frequency of deaths of Wyoming lawyers in active practice continues to climb. When those numbers are added to the number of active practitioners who experience an incapacitating event— disabling illness, for instance, or injury—the lawyer's clients may be placed at risk.
One of the important services provided by the Wyoming State Bar is assistance to the families and colleagues of lawyers who pass away or are rendered unable to practice. We continue to encourage lawyers to designate surrogates, and a good many do. When the inevitable comes to pass, my office will contact the lawyer's designated surrogate if one has been named. In the absence of a designated surrogate, I will contact colleagues in a recruitment effort of sorts. I will draft a petition for appointment of surrogate (called "protective counsel" in the language of Rule 26(d), WR.Disc.Proc.) and an order appointing surrogate. The petition is then filed in district court and an order is entered.
The order authorizes the surrogate lawyer to inventory the deceased or incapacitated lawyer's files, arrange for reassignment of active matters and take possession of the lawyer's trust account. Once the lawyer's practice has been wound up, the surrogate lawyer files a report with the district court and the court issues an order discharging the...