January 01, 2018

A Lifetime of Transitions

By Michael J. Van Zandt

I’m very proud to be appointed as this year’s chair of the Experience editorial board. It reminds me of one of my favorite topics and one I’ve experienced many times in my 37 years of practicing law—transitions.

I started out as a navigator in the U.S. Air Force and became a judge advocate after 10 years of active service. That was my first big transition, and it took some acclimating—flying planes to flying a desk. When I retired from the Air Force, I had the choice of being a project manager or transitioning to private practice. I chose the latter, and I’m glad I did. The transition from JAG to being a partner in a major law firm was an eye opener. I never had to worry about the business of law in the Air Force. But there I was in a private law firm with all the pressures it brings. Soon after, I became the managing partner of my own law firm—one more transition.

The Inevitable Questions

Time flies when you enjoy the practice of law, but then one day I realized I was eligible for Social Security, and people suddenly began asking me when I was going to retire. The thought had never crossed my mind.

My good friend and former chair of the Senior Lawyers Division Theodore Kolb always swore he’d never retire from practicing law, and he never did. I practiced law with him until the day before he passed. But not all of us can follow his example, and one day we must face the inevitable question of what to do when we retire. The articles this month explore that topic, but they also provide food for thought about how to balance our lives while we’re still practicing. My advice is to start now, before you retire, to find other things you love to do. Volunteer to help the less fortunate, whether through legal aid or spending time preparing meals for the hungry. Be a mentor to a young person by volunteering at your local school. Join a non-profit board, not as a lawyer, but as a giving, caring member of your community. Find a creative outlet, which for me was tapping into my inner child and performing in shows as an actor, singer, and, yes, a dancer. What a trip! As lawyers, we never stop learning. As we mature, we should apply this lesson to all that we do. Never stop learning. Take a course, or better yet, teach a course. There’s nothing like teaching that makes your really learn. Read and keep reading all those great books you put off all those years, and read subjects that are foreign to you and that will stimulate your mind. Travel to as many exotic and interesting places as you can. Stay active and healthy so you can travel and keep your brain sharp. Try to live by the motto: Keep young. You’ll be happier, more fulfilled, and in the long run a better person. Enjoy this month’s “experience.”

By Michael J. Van Zandt

MICHAEL J. VAN ZANDT is a partner and co-chair of the Environmental & Natural Resources group at Hanson Bridgett in San Francisco. In addition to chairing the Experience editorial board, Van Zandt is a member of the Senior Lawyers Division Council; a representative for the ABA SLD Environment, Energy and Resources Special Committee; a Litigation Counsel of America senior fellow; and an American Bar Foundation life fellow.