Retirement for lawyers: Is This the Time to Plan Yours?
Just a few months ago, the idea of retiring from practice may have seemed remote. Does it still seem that way? After weeks in relative isolation, working nonstop from home or worried about not having enough work, the time may be right for planning your retirement.
We know that after quarantines and shelter-in-place orders are lifted, we will emerge into a world that will be very different from just a few months ago, even if we don’t know what all those changes will look like. You can use this moment to reconsider your priorities, decide on the people and things that are most important to you, and make choices about where they will fit in your future.
One of the most prominent effects of this pandemic is a heightened awareness of just how fragile and unpredictable our lives really are. Reports of death and images of mortality surround us every day, making us realize how short life can be and how important it is to spend your time on what matters most to you.
Be honest with yourself about why you are in practice and whether and how long you want to continue. It’s important to keep in mind that retiring from law practice doesn’t mean you have to stop working or stop being a lawyer. Whether you quit working and devote yourself to your family and community or you continue to work for pay or for nothing but satisfaction, you can retire and remain productive in any number of ways for a long, long time.
Does Your Future Include Retirement? Three Questions
To help you think about your future — and whether and when it should include retirement – here are some questions to consider.
- How much do you enjoy your practice?
- How much longer do you want to practice?
- How strong is your determination to make whatever changes are necessary to continue your practice?
One of the lasting outcomes we can expect from this pandemic is that the way we work will never be the same. It’s a safe bet that working remotely is here to stay, but even when you can return to your office, the way law is practiced will be markedly different. What’s more, unless demand for your practice area stays strong, some of your clients — or your firm — may not need you as much or at all.
If you genuinely love what you do and are prepared to do whatever it takes to serve your clients and maintain your professional status, you may be able to adapt easily. But if you are still in practice principally because you see no other alternatives or are afraid to lose the prestige and rewards your career has afforded, a return to practice may be especially challenging. It will require considerable effort, determination and stamina.
Dedicate Some Time to Considering Life’s Other Aspects
For most lawyers, the best aspects of law practice include things like intellectual rigor, serving and making a difference for clients, and enjoying clients’ trust. But you can find equally satisfying alternatives outside law firms or apply your legal skills in new ways or new fields. The world is filled with fascinating opportunities for work, leisure, learning, and adventures of all kinds.
When you are ready to start thinking seriously about retirement, some self-reflection, exploration, and perhaps a little guidance will lead you to many interests and activities you’ll want to pursue. Again, some questions to consider:
- List 10 things that are most important to you. Which of them do you value the most?
- Until now, where has your law practice ranked among your priorities?
- Over the last few weeks, have any of your priorities changed? In what ways?
If work and career have been the dominant focus of your life, these weeks of staying at home may have made you aware of how little time you have given to other aspects of life. Maybe you delayed travel until you retire, someday far in the future. Perhaps you failed to develop hobbies and neglected friendships because you couldn’t find the time, or never realized how comforting it could be to read poetry or go for walks in the park.
Lawyer Retirement: Factor in Family and Friends
This period may also have shown you the importance of spending time with family and friends. Being with your spouse or partner 24/7 has been a chance to practice, discuss and prepare for retirement. It has probably made you acutely aware of how much “togetherness” and independence you’ll want when one or both of you retire. You may also have a new appreciation of how special it is to be physically present with your children, grandchildren, friends and relatives. Virtual hugs will never beat the real thing.
If your priorities are not in sync with your dearest values, retirement may offer the time and space for you to bring them into alignment as you make new choices and pursue new paths.
A Chance to Reassess
Imposed seclusion presents an occasion to reassess your life, the work you do, your family and friends, and the values that mean the most to you. It’s a time to consider how you want to spend your days when you have the freedom to do the things and be with the people you care about most. You might not be ready or able to make decisions right now. Still, if this self-examination suggests that retirement is a desirable option, you can begin now to design a retirement that will provide a happy and purposeful future when the time is right to make that move.
You can purchase Ida Abbott’s new book, “Retirement by Design,” by visiting the Ida Abbott Consulting website; through her publisher, Ulysses Press; or via Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other sites where books are sold.
More on Attorney at Work
- “Book Review: Use Design Thinking to Plan Your Retirement” by Camille Stell
- “Prepare Yourself for a Happy Retirement” by Ida Abbott
- “Five Reasons Lawyers Avoid Retirement” by Camille Stell
- “Five Ways a Sabbatical Can Help You Assess Retirement” by Camille Stell
- “Your Boomer Retirement Problem Won’t Just Fade Away” by Ida Abbott
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