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A Life in the Law

Semi-Retired: Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

By Susan Cohodes

What should you expect in the early days and weeks of your new life? Whether you quit cold turkey or opt for being a semi-retired lawyer, managing your time and setting boundaries isn’t easy.

semi-retired lawyer

When I was a teenager, pop artist Neal Sedaka warned that “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.” And now I know that it’s true. Three-plus months into being a “sort of retired” attorney, I still find it difficult to give less than full-time attention to my remaining clients.

It’s Almost Embarrassing Logging In This Much

With the exception of a few short vacations, I can count on one hand the number of days (including weekends) I haven’t logged in to the office since the start of the year — just like when I was working full-time.

I’m glad I chose to cut back rather than completely retire from my practice because now it is very clear it would have been impossible for me to quit cold turkey.

So I’m wrestling with the idea of what retirement — or life as a semi-retired lawyer — means. Retirement was a nice idea in theory and I’m working to make it a great idea in fact. Those short vacations have been a blast. (Read: “5 Ways a Sabbatical Can Help You Assess Retirement” by Camille Stell)

But I guess I still like representing people more than I expected.

It’s Hard Work to Work Less as a Semi-Retired Lawyer

I have complete control over how many cases I’m handling and how much time I spend on them, but old habits die hard. Still, I’m working hard on working less.

As I do so, I continue to realize I made the right choice to step slowly away from my practice rather than sprinting for the door and slamming it behind me. It turns out I really like representing (some) people, and when I can do it without dealing with extraneous office stuff (like commuting) I like it even more.

It’s not that I don’t have plenty of other interests to fill my time, and I certainly want to ramp up the amount of time I spend volunteering.  Also, I’ve discovered that grocery stores and nail salons are open during the daytime on weekdays. I am enjoying grocery shopping on a Tuesday when the shelves are full and the store is empty. I picked up a prescription midweek and didn’t have to wait 30 minutes. I’ve also discovered that it is possible to read a novel in the middle of the day when it’s still light outside, upright, rather than lying in bed late at night struggling to keep my eyes open. 

But I just can’t stop logging in to (my old) office.

Maybe that’s not a bad thing. I’m reminded of the old joke about the interviewee who, when asked about his biggest flaw, says, “Sometimes I just care too much.” And, apparently, sometimes I do. So be it.

As I look back, I know I was ready when I stepped back. I don’t think that waiting until I was so burned out that I could no longer do the work would have been the answer. I put a great deal of thought into my decision to step back, and I still believe it was the right one. But I may have underestimated my ability to quit. So I will be at peace with the fact that I will just keep logging in and I will aim to tiptoe away slowly.

Advice: Find Something to Walk Toward

The decision to walk away from a successful career you actually enjoy is not an easy one, and it will be different for everyone. The best way to make the best decision, to my mind, is to start thinking about it and planning for it early. Develop interests that don’t have anything to do with the law and nurture those interests. Then, when you decide to sprint or walk away, you will have something to walk or sprint toward. And when you move forward, feel free to look back as much as you need to. (Read: “Prepare Yourself for a Happy Retirement,” by Ida O. Abbott.)

I hope to continue the journey away from the law while I still enjoy representing the nice people I represent now. And, maybe, just maybe, when I head to Green Bay to see my beloved Packers play nine home games this year, I’ll be able to leave my laptop at home for one or two of them.

Just like a retired person would do.

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Susan Cohodes Susan Cohodes

Susan Cohodes is a trial attorney who practiced for more than 35 years, first in Chicago and for the last 31 years in Seattle. Susan has spent her entire career fighting for injured clients. In 2024, Susan became Of Counsel to her firm and is now pursuing her passions of knitting, writing — and following her beloved Green Bay Packers around the country.

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