A Trial Lawyer Tries the Case of the Lawyer Who Writes
With two books under his belt and a third in the works, this lawyer is composing his post-retirement story.
By Tim Cagle
Billy Joel said not to change because people will love you “Just the Way You Are.”
Still, reinventing myself has long been a favorite pastime. The scariest time was in my early thirties when I shut down my law practice and went to Nashville to write country songs. My big break never broke, and I knew I’d always be a songwriter trapped in a lawyer’s body.
But I just traded the courtroom for a word processor and was fortunate enough to have two books published in 2017. One is based on my time in Nashville, and the other is a medical/legal thriller about a couple who go for in vitro fertilization, and the woman and her baby receive a death sentence from a mysterious stranger.
Ronnie Specter was Right: “I Can Hear Music”
The journey from lawyer to writer started when I began to use song lyrics in court. A defendant doctor testified he was compelled to use an outdated surgical procedure. I asked if he was caught in a trap and was unable to walk out, as an image of Elvis singing “Suspicious Minds” flashed.
In another case, a witness testified he was a high-voltage electrician, and I asked if he was a lineman working for the county, as visions of songwriter Jim Webb and Glen Campbell singing “Wichita Lineman” appeared.
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” Sayeth the Rolling Stones
The biggest reason I write is because the stories I’ve experienced are compelling and need to be told. Getting published wasn’t my most difficult impediment; it was people who gave me specious advice.
I once pitched a story about two ex-jocks who became law partners. A literary agent huffily declared, “No football player was smart enough to go to law school, let alone two.” I told him I’d instantly notify ex-Miami Dolphin Nick Buoniconti, an attorney and former CEO at U.S. Tobacco, and ex-Minnesota Viking Alan Page, a Minnesota Supreme Court justice.
Being published was almost anti-climatic. I was happy to quit my 90-hour work weeks and lengthy malpractice trials. I was also teaching evidence, torts, and negotiations as a full-time law professor, so writing was like a vacation.
The sequel to my first book is almost ready, and I owe much of my success to my wife, Linda. She recently retired as a senior vice president at a leading teaching hospital. You can imagine what a huge hit I was, as a plaintiff’s lawyer, with the physicians at her Christmas parties.
She once said that my biggest problem was that I wrote like a lawyer and that it took “two supreme court decisions and the entire U.S. code for me just to declare, ‘It depends.’”
The Beach Boys said it: “Fun, Fun, Fun”
If you’re looking to reinvent yourself after retiring from the law, my advice is to have fun. Use the same business principles in retirement that you used to run your practice. Revel in things that fuel your passion. There are no summary judgments left, and there are no associates to groom.
I’m also teaching guitar to my neighbor’s teenage daughters and am guided by the lyrics of songwriter Lori McKenna, who wrote about helping who’s next in line. When these teens conquer a new song, the feeling I get is best described by country singer Kenny Chesney, who once told us that’s what’s called “The Good Stuff.”
A Dream Retirement to be on the Road Again
Undaunted by unexpected challenges, this lawyer’s retirement plan is so far working. But when will she feel ready?
By Tina Willis
My dream retirement is to travel around the United States in a recreational vehicle, hiking, running, and biking through all the national parks. I actually want to begin mini-retirements, starting with about two months and gradually adding more time each year, starting hopefully next year. And I have a plan to achieve those goals.
Actively Pursuing Passive Income
We plan to fund this retirement and the mini-retirements primarily by passive rental property investment income. So for the last three years, I’ve invested the great majority of my income in rental properties. My husband and I have paid the bills using my husband’s income, and we’ve been fortunate to earn enough to pay off our own mortgage and all other debt and student loans.
We’ve been really serious about investing, which has sometimes become my part-time job. Specifically, when I settle a big case, I immediately begin searching for properties, pricing them, competing with other investors to purchase them, then rehabbing and renting them with my husband’s help.
I made time to invest by structuring my injury and accident practice so that I handle all cases as co-counsel with another law firm, which means that I get a lot of help on my cases. That obviously wouldn’t work for many lawyers, but the arrangement has been perfect for me and for our early-retirement goals.
Estimates Are Just That
Working toward this goal, we’ve experienced a few challenges. The biggest has been the time to renovate the properties. I definitely underestimated the time required.
My original plan was to use the rental income for eventual retirement and, in the meantime, to help fund the growth of my practice. In other words, rental income would eventually pay for retirement but also would, in very short order, pay for more advertising and related practice-growth costs.
Instead, the renovations have happened much slower than I imagined, which has unfortunately meant not reinvesting in my practice, which has stalled my practice expansion. Perhaps I made a mistake in that regard because growing my practice, rather than investing outside of my practice, might have been the more profitable decision.
Still, at least for our goals, dreams, and very active lifestyle, I feel great knowing we could retire right now and survive forever barring a tragedy.
Despite the delays caused by renovations not being performed, we’re on target to achieve our retirement goals, just not also my very ambitious practice-growth goals. We’ve purchased all the rental properties we estimated we’d need to be comfortable during retirement. And we’ve paid all other debt. We have enough money in the bank right now to complete the renovations and still have plenty of cushion.
But, again, those accomplishments came at the expense of reinvesting in expensive advertising and marketing options, which might have fueled even more practice growth and led to more money in the long run.
When to Walk Away
The only other challenge has been deciding to stop. As soon as we get “there,” we seem to change the goal. We want more and more security or luxuries now or later, so we never seem to give ourselves permission to decide that we have enough and should stop working so hard.
My advice for all lawyers is to seriously consider your hopes and dreams, make a plan, and make them happen. Not spending most of what I’ve earned has been challenging. But the thought of enjoying every day traveling around the country or the world and running, biking, and hiking through national parks or mountain ranges has given me plenty of motivation.
Also, and I’m sorry to be cliché, but we really should believe that the impossible very well might be possible, whatever our goals. My husband probably thought I was crazy-optimistic when I told him the number of rental properties I wanted to buy three years ago, just a couple of years after starting my own boutique practice, after years of working for other lawyers. Even to me, it seemed totally impossible at first.
But we tackled my initial goal in record time. Now we just have the challenge of not wanting even more.
The Vintage Years Are Calling This Lawyer
A health scare brought an incredible yield and a retirement plan that’s a fine blend of work and play.
By Teresa J. Rhyne
When I was diagnosed with cancer I had a moment where I thought, without sarcasm, “Well, at least I can stop worrying about saving for retirement.”
I’m thankful that turned out not to be true. Instead my cancer battle forged a path for my perfect retirement. I now earn a living as an attorney, an author, and a speaker. And I live part-time in my dream location—California’s Central Coast wine country, Paso Robles, where I plan to retire and spend my days writing and wine-ing.
However, the path was about as straight as a grapevine, and I’m still winding my way down it, with a velvety Viognier in hand.
No Putting a Cork in It
The seeds were planted when I blogged about my cancer experience. The blog was mentioned in several magazine articles. That gave me the encouragement to return to a long bottled-up love of mine—writing.
I was diagnosed 11 months after opening my own solo practice and quickly determined I could do two things: Keep my practice going and fight cancer. I pruned out other responsibilities. When I finished treatment, I used the same approach to write a memoir. When that memoir became a number-one New York Times bestseller, my fantasy retirement plan began to ferment.
My boyfriend is in the wine business, and Paso Robles had always been our favorite region. It’s hard to transition a law practice 250 miles away, but writing can be done from anywhere. We began spending more time in Paso, and I published a second book. My royalty checks, however, made it clear that writing doesn’t pay what law does, though it’s a nice supplement.
So we expanded our plantings. We rented a home, and I opened a satellite law office in Paso Robles and began to cultivate a client base. Turns out being a NYT bestseller isn’t a bad marketing tool for a lawyer.
A Split that’s Challenging
Now I spend time in both offices, making the 250-mile commute a couple of times a month. I also explored speaking opportunities, which, surprisingly, pay better than writing. In addition to a literary agent, I now have a speaking agent.
Managing my main office from such a distance has been tough. I often feel I’m in the wrong office at the wrong time. Much can be done remotely, but clients still need and deserve the personal touch.
I haven’t yet had luck finding the right associate to one day take over my Southern California office, and the drive does get tiresome. But knowing that I’m doing more to plan for my retirement than setting money aside keeps me going.
The Coming Harvest
I’m positioning myself to practice law less and write more over the years, but I’m enjoying both currently. The memoir I’m writing on weekends now explores all of this—and our adventures with our dogs roaming vineyards and sipping spectacular wines.
Cancer was a rude messenger, but retirement now looks like a privilege. Cheers to our vintage years!