Local Attorney Takes His Own Advice While Handing Down His Practice

Springfield Attorney Gary Powell finds himself in his clients’ shoes now that he’s transitioning his practice to his stepson.

By Karen Bliss

Mar 2018

Clayton Campbell (left) and Gary Powell (right) of Spencer Fane
Photo by Brad ZweerinkClayton Campbell, left, is an associate at Spencer Fane’s Springfield law office and his stepfather, Gary Powell, is a partner in the firm.

For more than 35 years, Gary Powell has helped his clients think about their legacies and what they will share with the next generation. Now the partner at Spencer Fane is taking some of his own advice. For the past year and a half, Powell has been transitioning his clientele to his stepson, Clayton Campbell.

“One of the things that I believe very strongly in is that a good succession plan is implemented over 5 to 10 years,” Powell says. “You should not get started thinking, ‘Gee, I think I might retire next year.’ I think that’s a little too late to have a successful transition plan.” 

Powell is one of nine partners at the Springfield office of Spencer Fane, which is headquartered in Kansas City and has about 200 attorneys across the firm’s various locations. Powell specializes in estate and succession planning among other areas. In any business, but especially one that has long-standing relationships with clients, Powell says a long-term transition plan is vital. The first step for a business with multiple owners—or in this case, partners—is to have all major decision-makers agree on the plan. 

“You cannot have a successful business plan unless you’re committed to spend time mentoring the successor.”
— —Gary Powell, Partner at Spencer Fane
Spencer Fane Building
Photo by Brad ZweerinkSpencer Fane’s Springfield offices are in Farmers Park.

Powell and Campbell have two parts to their transition. Part one is developing Campbell’s technical skills and the knowledge base he needs to help clients. The second part is having Campbell develop strong relationships with the client. With any business, Powell says it’s important to commit a significant amount of time to mentoring your mentee or successor. “You cannot have a successful business plan unless you’re committed to spending time mentoring the successor,” he says. “It just isn’t going to work.”

For his part, Campbell knows the upcoming transition is one he can handle but acknowledges it is a tall order to fill his stepfather’s shoes. “To think that I should be the one to carry the mantle, it’s a weighty endeavor, but it’s one that I completely embrace,” Campbell says. 

“To think that I should be the one to carry the mantle, it’s a weighty endeavor, but it’s one that I completely embrace.”
— —Clayton Campbell, Associate at Spencer Fane

Passing the torch to someone in your family can be difficult. There are several things you want to try to do when working together as family members. Campbell says one of those is transparency in expectations from both sides. “There needs to be direct communication about what expectations there are, what things need to be done better and what things were maybe done really well,” he says.

Powell says there can be some positive aspects of having a family member be the one stepping into your spot. “I think when you pick a family member as your successor, there is a much higher commitment to making the deal work than when there’s a non-family member,” he says. “There’s very strong commitment on the part of both Clayton and me to make this succession successful.” However, Powell says if a succession doesn’t work, it could also adversely affect the family relationship. 

Campbell says not bringing family life into the office is also very important. “Bringing family dynamics or somehow starting to operate with one another as if we were family members, as opposed to co-workers or mentor to mentee, you introduce a lot of complexities into the workplace,” he says. “I think it’s important to remember that, at work, we operate by a different set of rules.”