In her new column, “A Life in the Law,” trial attorney Susan Cohodes will be sharing pearls of wisdom from her long career in small firm practice. First up, her vigorous debate with … herself about retiring from law practice.
Table of contents
Four and a half years ago, I was sure I had made a decision. I told the owner of the small law firm where I had worked since 2000 that I would call it a career at the end of 2023. It made sense then and continued to make sense to me — until about a month ago.
Suddenly, the End of My Career as a PI Lawyer Was Looming
I was meeting with fewer new clients and the ones I did meet with were likely to outlast me at the firm. New lawsuits I filed were assigned trial dates well past my firm expiration date. In 2024, was I going to be able to justify paying for a monthly downtown parking spot? Was I really going to stop doing what I have done and loved since 1986?
As a consequence, I have been engaged in a vigorous debate … with myself.
Should I Stay?
Maybe I should.
I’ve been a PI attorney since 1986. I like it and I’m good at it. I’m not splitting the atom but the law changes often enough that I still find it interesting and rewarding. I’ve represented lots of wonderful and fascinating people who I most certainly would not have met had I not represented them. I have enjoyed being part of the community of PI attorneys and the colleagues and even opponents who I worked with and against.
Do I really want to leave that community for a part-time “of counsel” role?
Should I Go?
Maybe I should.
After all, I set the end of 2023 as my end date in 2018 and I meant it. I’ve said it out loud again and again to anyone who would listen. I have grown weary of driving 25 miles on a weekend morning to meet a client to give him a check for settlement proceeds in an amount to which he agreed … IN WRITING … only to have him tell me his next-door-neighbor’s wife’s third-cousin-twice-removed got three times as much for a similar situation. That didn’t use to bother me, but now it does, more and more each time it happens. I think to myself that maybe that client should have had his next-door neighbor’s-wife’s-third-cousin-twice-removed’s lawyer help him. But instead, I must say out loud, “You’re welcome and I’m happy we could get your case resolved.”
And I just don’t think I can do that anymore.
Seriously, Though, Should I Stay?
I do have a very eclectic clientele since Seattle, where I work, has an eclectic population. I have met wonderful people from all over the world and I will miss the coffee, tea and tasty treats from East Africa, the Philippines and China and Japan and South America and the Middle East that I have enjoyed over the years in clients’ living rooms and restaurants. (Except for food that has eyes and looks back at me. I won’t miss that.)
I’ll miss the notes, hugs and tears of genuine thanks that come from clients who are truly grateful (or maybe who don’t live next to people whose neighbor’s distant relatives have been in injury accidents).
I will miss helping people, sometimes in small ways and sometimes in life-changing ways.
On the other hand, the future of law.
I like paper. I know that the future of law is paperless but I am quite certain that I have no desire to work in a world where the blue binder and the yellow highlighter are not essential tools of the trade.
The Final Sign (or, The Sound of Silence)
I wondered how I would finally decide if I had been right nearly five years ago when I announced my intentions to retire. Then one recent day in the office, my speakers spoke to me.
Or, rather, they didn’t. I listen to music while I work, but about a week ago one of my desk speakers gave out. I have perfectly good desk speakers at home, so I don’t really want to buy a new set for my office. I also don’t want to work in silence. It must be a sign.
So, the speakers have spoken, and now I know: I will ride off into the sunset on December 31, 2023.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to reflect on my decadeslong career and the insights earned — and I’ll keep you posted.