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The Friday Five

Lawyer Retirement: Planning for Life After Law During a Pandemic

This might be a really good time to rethink your retirement.

By Camille Stell

Uncharted territory. Unprecedented times. Navigating the coronavirus crisis. Many of you had hoped your career would wind down in the next few years easily and gradually, in a natural arc without much effort. We are in uncharted territory. But, much like a sabbatical, you can use this time to assess your situation and begin some serious planning for retirement.

Pandemic Status Check

Many of us are still working from home or working in nearly deserted office buildings. For many lawyers, it was easy to move the laptops and devices from the office to the home office. Others had a bit of work to do to make the home office less dining room and more conference room.

But for many traditional law offices, the pivot to remote work was not quick or easy. Their office systems are server-based. The technology is 10 years old, which is ancient in computer years. More than that, among law firm owners, there has never been a desire for remote work, or flexible hours, or working from home — and that is still the prevailing attitude.

Does this sound familiar? If you have little interest in pivoting to a more “modern” law practice, this may be the time to accelerate your succession and retirement plan.

Beginning Your Planning for Retirement Process

Here are steps you can to reassess a wind-down and begin to plan your future.

1. Get Your Financials in Order

Pull all your financial information together. Work with your CPA, tax advisor or financial planner to set a retirement budget and see whether you are able to fund your retirement at this time. If you want to consider selling your law practice, you are going to need five to 10 years of good financial data to value your practice. For most lawyers, this is not as simple as pulling one report. It is a project that may take at least several weeks or even a few months and requires planning for adherence to ethics rules. Start now.

2. Gather Your Client List

Can you rapidly pull a current client list, with case status and contact information for each client? This is a key component of disaster recovery, but also of preparing your office for wind-down or sale.

3. Gather Your Referral List

If you wind down your practice, you will need to contact your referral sources to let them know. If you plan to sell your practice, your referral sources are an important factor in the valuation process. Take the time now to create an updated contact list and note the contributions each referral source has had to your practice.

4. Build a Retirement Advisory Team

In her book “Retirement by Design,” Ida Abbott discusses the importance of creating an advisory team to assist in designing your retirement path. (Read the review here.) Here are some suggested team members:

  • Your spouse, significant other, children, or others who will be most affected by your retirement.
  • A close friend, therapist or spiritual advisor who can guide you through the anxiety of transition.
  • A financial advisor who can assist in managing your finances and preparing your budget.
  • A retirement coach to support and encourage you through the process.
  • A business broker to help value your practice in case of sale.
  • A succession expert to assist in the transition or sale of the practice.
  • A health coach, personal trainer or physician to offer health management tips and advice.
  • Friends or colleagues who have retired who can share their experiences with the process and serve as a mentor.
  • An estate planning lawyer to assist in drafting legal documents including health care directives.
  • An insurance agent to consider personal and business policies that can help fund retirement, protect partners in the event of disability, and long-term health care protection.
  • Anyone else whose expertise, experience or advice would be especially helpful to you.

5. Create a Picture of Your Life After Law

It is important to imagine what life after law looks like. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Asheville, North Carolina, offers these weekend programs for those considering planning for retirement:

  • Paths to Creative Retirement is designed to identify your purpose and passion in retirement. This program is typically offered in April and August.
  • Creative Retirement Exploration Weekend allows you to discover the challenges and opportunities of choosing where and how to relocate in retirement. The program is typically offered in June.

While there are many OLLI programs taught at universities across the country, this program is unique to Asheville and draws participants from across the country.

Application for You

We are in uncharted territory. You’ve probably never experienced a pandemic, nor have you planned for your own retirement. Both are scary. But with a plan, we can meet the challenge.

Photo by Elena Koycheva on Unsplash

Related reading …

“Prepare Yourself for a Happy Retirement” by Ida Abbott

“Five Reasons Lawyers Avoid Retirement” by Camille Stell

“Ways a Sabbatical Can Help You Assess Retirement” by Camille Stell

“Your Boomer Retirement Problem Won’t Just Fade Away” by Ida Abbott

“Saving for Retirement While Running Your Practice” by Ryan McPherson

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Categories: Legal Career Development, Retirement Planning, Succession Planning, You At Work
Originally published June 12, 2020
Last updated June 3, 2022
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Camille Stell

Camille Stell is the President of Lawyers Mutual Consulting & Services and the co-author of “RESPECT: An Insight to Attorney Compensation Plans,” available from Amazon. Named an inaugural member of NC Lawyers Weekly “Leader in the Law,” Camille is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management, a member of the NC Pro Bono Resource Coordinators Network, and on the Advisory Group for the Duke Law Tech Law. Connect with Camille on LinkedIn.

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