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Law Practice Magazine


Taking the Lead: Planning Your Legacy at Work

Linda A Klein and John Hinton IV


  • Consider the legacy you can leave for others by ensuring that your practice continues after you retire.
Taking the Lead: Planning Your Legacy at Work

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Ebenezer Scrooge, the principal character in Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol, has become part of our vocabulary. The story has been retold in countless plays, movies and television shows. Scrooge spends Christmas Eve alone until he is visited by the ghost of his deceased business partner and three additional ghosts all trying to change his hardened heart. Neither the Ghost of Christmas Past nor the Ghost of Christmas Present have success. However, when the Ghost of Christmas Future shows him what is to come upon his passing, Scrooge’s indifference to others changes. He wants to know whether someone—anyone—holds any emotion about his death. Ironically, the only emotion comes from one poor couple who rejoice because his passing provides them additional time to resolve their financial woes. Scrooge cannot bear the thought of the future that he is shown. He promises to become a changed man, and the next day he keeps that promise. Indeed, he became known as the man who knew how to “keep Christmas well.”

Everyone can relate to the emotions that touched Scrooge’s hard heart. If you take the time to consider your legacy, it always causes you to reflect upon and evaluate your own life. We want to be remembered well by those who come after us and to feel that we have made a positive impact.

The matter of one’s legacy is not limited to end-of-life matters. For each of us, one day will be our last day as a lawyer. Fortunately for most of us, that transition will be on our own timetable and terms. When we leave the practice of law, each of us will leave a unique legacy. With some thought and intentionality, we can shape a positive legacy for those who follow us. Here are three questions to help start the process.

How would you like to be remembered? When a colleague leaves the profession, it is human nature to reflect on what that lawyer did and said. Those reflections vary in intensity, but the emotions can run the full spectrum of human emotions. All of us want to be well-regarded by our peers when we end our practice years. That will not happen if we do not intentionally treat our colleagues with respect now. Consider how you want to be remembered, and then pursue building those memories with your actions now. As Ebenezer Scrooge showed, it is never too late to change course so that others will miss you when you leave. In doing so, you not only shape your legacy for the future, but you improve the culture of your firm today.

Who can you mentor or sponsor? There is no substitute for a good mentor. More mature lawyers have insight and wisdom that are invaluable to younger lawyers. Likely, you recall fondly mentors and sponsors who helped shape your career. We certainly do, and our successes are part of their legacies. Wouldn’t you wish at your retirement to have people state that your investment in them made their success possible? If you haven’t done so already, invest in someone else’s career. Your investment will allow them to stand on your shoulders and reach heights in their career that might otherwise be unattainable.

What will “pass away” with you if you don’t proactively plan? When you retire, the practice of law will continue for everyone else. Unfortunately, many lawyers don’t plan to ensure a smooth transition of their practice to their colleagues. If clients don’t have relationships with the people in your firm who would continue their work, then those clients are likely to go elsewhere. Indeed, entire firms have failed because key lawyers failed to plan the transition to new owners and leaders. Those people who have counted on the firm for their livelihood must then look for alternate employment. We doubt that anyone wants such an outcome, but a proper transition can take years to execute. Of course, it can be difficult to initiate a plan to transition out of the practice of law. Each of us has a different time horizon for our practice, but be realistic about your own timeline and plan accordingly.

Consider the legacy you can leave for others by ensuring that your practice continues after you retire.

Ebenezer Scrooge cared enough about his legacy to make life changes that brought about the legacy that he desired. Let’s all take time to reflect on the legacy we are currently creating and decide whether we need a course correction to leave the legacy that we desire.