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ABA Journal

Death of a Practice: After Lawyer Dies, Her Friend Is Faced with Closing Down Her Firm

Posted Jan 11, 2013 6:30 PM CDT
By Susan A. Berson

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The Law Office of Diane Denniston: Finding new
tenants for the space where Denniston practiced
may be the least vexing of the many matters
that need to be addressed after her death last
August. Photo by Earl Richardson.

Sole practitioner Diane Denniston lived her last days in the dining room of fellow Missouri attorney Alicia Beeler Villines this past summer.

A Kansas City-area lawyer of more than 20 years, Denniston had expected to return to her home, as well as to her clients, when she was diagnosed with cancer for a second time in 2011.

“Diane was a warm and caring person,” says Villines, whose practice is in Kearney, about 25 miles north of Kansas City. “I had met her at a bankruptcy CLE, and she became a close personal friend over the past few years.

“Diane had realized her cancer had returned, but her doctors were perhaps not as forthright as they might have been. ... Since late last year, she had been operating under the assumption that her health problems were more temporary and she would be able to return to the practice of law as she did after her first battle with the disease in 2005.”

From a hospital bed, Denniston requested that Villines close down her practice. “When Diane realized that the recurrence of her cancer was going to result in her death in the near future, she turned over her cases to me, signing an agreement to allow me to close her cases and transferring her practice over to me,” Villines says.

Soon after, Denniston learned that her situation was even more complicated. “Because Diane’s health insurance did not cover nursing home care, she needed a place to go where she could live out her final days under hospice care. Diane had no family.

“I wanted to do what I could for a friend. So I converted my dining room, complete with hospital bed and other sundry medical equipment. I hired temporary help so I could care for Diane, do my own client work and transition Diane’s clients.”

Though her practice area is also bankruptcy, it was not until she was able to dig into Denniston’s case files that Villines realized there was too much for one attorney.

Click here to read the rest of "Death of a Practice" from the January issue of the ABA Journal.

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