Retirement for Lawyers

Retirement for lawyers can be different than for other professions and careers. At some point in their career lawyers begin to think about retirement. For baby boomers, retirement is here now or on the horizon. What does retirement mean to you?  How do you envision your later years? Will you continue to practice law or will you transition into a new phase of life? An Altman-Weil survey conducted in 2007 revealed that 61% of the attorneys surveyed plan to continue working in some capacity after retirement.  Of those, 48% will continue to practice law. What do you plan to do?

Retirement is a fairly recent development. Not long ago people worked until they died. The enactment of Social Security and the introduction of pensions into the workplace ushered in a new phase of leisure life for many Americans.  However, subsequent events such as the gradual replacement of pensions with 401k retirement accounts, an increase in average life expectancy and the recent financial meltdown have upset the vision of retirement we once held. For attorneys, there is the additional challenge of increased competition for clients and the attendant financial challenges resulting. Many attorneys at or near retirement age are uncertain about their future and unclear about how to approach retirement.

A new definition of Retirement. At this time, in the early years of the second decade of the 21st century, retirement is being redefined. In fact, the name "retirement" is a misnomer. People are instead creating what life will be for them in this "Next Phase" of life. With longer life expectancy and modern medical treatment, options exist that did not exist previously. We can choose to continue with the legal career and personal lifestyle we have followed through our middle years or shift into a new experience. Of course financial considerations will affect our options, that has always been the case. But how does this time of life affect us as lawyers?

Advantages: As lawyers, with a government issued license to practice our profession, we have more flexibility than those who are totally dependent upon working for others.  We are free to work for ourselves, band together to work as a law firm or use our knowledge and experience to pursue entrepreneurial ventures. There is no mandatory retirement age. We are free to work for as long as we want and to work in our law practices either full or part time as we desire.

Disadvantages: Attorneys, although we are smart and educated, often tend to be unaware, not to know ourselves, our values, interests and abilities as well as other vocations. It is often our legal careers and work that are the focus of our lives to the detriment of learning about who we are and pursuing a full, satisfying and well balanced life. Another disadvantage is that through our ability to make more money than many others we accumulate a lifestyle that is expensive to maintain and difficult to give up.

The wise lawyer plans how to make the best use of his or her remaining years. Let's not call it retirement. Rather, it is more accurate and constructive to refer to our "Next Phase of Life." We are, within limits, able do choose how we will live and work in this Next Phase. If we choose to, we can make the Next Phase of our lives more exciting and more satisfying that our previous phases. We simply need to commit and to invest the necessary time and effort to make a successful transition.

The possibilities are many. For example you could:

  • Continue your work as a lawyer as it is now - the status quo. If you have thought it through, done the due diligence and this is what you want, do it. Don't pay attention to those who think you should do differently.
  • Continue your work as it is now but with a shift of attitude and a commitment to get more value and satisfaction out of the years you have left.
  • Shift to a less demanding or stressful role in the law firm.
  • Develop a new less demanding law practice area.
  • Reduce the hours you work.
  • Leave your law practice for a new career.
  • Work part time in an easy and fun job.
  • Go back to school to learn a new profession or skill or just for the joy of learning.
  • Reduce your living expenses so that you can live on social security, investments, savings....
  • Travel.
  • Move to an area or a country with a lower cost of living.
  • Spend more time with family, with your grandchildren.

How to do it:

  1. Know yourself. Spend the time to take stock of who you are. Assessment testing might be helpful. What are you interested in that you haven't had time to learn more about? What latent talents do you have that could be developed? What would you like to accomplish before you die? What's on your bucket list? What do you want to give back?
  2. Write down your Vision of what you want this Next Phase of your life to be like. Be as specific as possible. The clearer your vision, the more it will pull you toward it and the less effort it will take to make the changes.
  3. Create a written Action Plan. Set out the specific steps you need to take to make your vision a reality. Calendar the due dates for each step.
  4. Follow the plan. No excuses, you are the most important client you have ever had!

Keep in mind:

  • Have a healthy approach to aging. Things change, we change. Keep a sense of humor about new health challenges and diminishment  of  physical or mental abilities. That's life.
  • Decide if you want to "work" and if so what work will mean to you. Is work something you do in return for money or can it be a constructive activity that gives you satisfaction?
  • Enjoy your relationships. Family and friends mean more and more as we age. Invest your time with those you care about.
  • Stay interested. There are so many new things in life to learn and to do.

I can  help you:

  • I've been in the lawyer trenches and know the challenges of making changes in or transitioning out of a legal career.
  • I'm a baby boomer too; first phase, born in 1947.  I have worked through a lot of this already and living my Next Phase plan now.
  • I've been coaching fellow lawyers since 1997. I have the skills and experience to make your transition to your Next Phase of life as easy as possible.
  • Let's talk. I can help you set up a plan and work with you to make the transition to your "Next Phase" easier and more more enjoyable.

Have a Great Retirement Next Phase of Life!


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