July 01, 2018

A Personal Journey from Law to Retirement: With Purpose, Passion, and Joy

By Vic Schachter

Now that I’m retired from litigation practice and fully engaged in a most passionate “post- retirement career,” I’ve thought a good deal about the journey that led me here. As in much of life, it all started in a rather ordinary way but led to some of the richest personal experiences of my life. Here’s how it came about and what I learned that may be helpful to you in finding equally purposeful, productive, and rich experiences during the next chapters of your life.

The journey begins

It was just another day in my office in 2002 when my partner came by to say he wouldn’t be able to attend a meeting at which a federal court judge was hosting a visiting delegation of Malaysian jurists. Since he knew of my personal interest in international matters and travel, he asked if I’d go in his place.

Though I had doubts as to what value I could add, I agreed to go—and the meeting turned out to be a most enjoyable exchange about alternative dispute resolution systems and judicial case management techniques. In fact, from my volunteer work in both federal and state court mediation programs, my practical knowledge added considerably to the discussions.

In addition, serendipitously, one of the attendees at the meeting was the executive director of a nongovernmental organization, the Institute for the Development of Legal Systems, which promoted rule-of-law initiatives in emerging, democratic countries. Within two weeks, I received an invitation from ISDLS to join a delegation to work in Sao Paulo, Brazil, to promote mediation and ADR systems there.

It was a truly exciting: Providing valuable counsel to the judiciary, meeting high-court judges, developing systems strategy, and experiencing a new culture and its people. Working mostly through translators (and in nonverbal communication!), it was challenging and fun.

The success of this venture led to further invitations to continue this work in a multinational Middle East conference in Istanbul and thereafter in Malaysia—learning a lot along the way and developing diplomatic and legal skills to overcome considerable lawyer and judicial resistance to change. Most typical were lawyers’ concerns about loss of the litigation work and income due to ADR settlements, among others.

The commitment grows

And then, in 2005, a special opportunity arose. The chief justice of the Supreme Court of India invited a new delegation from ISDLS to establish the first court-annexed mediation center in one of the busiest New Delhi trial courts, Tis Hazari.

As part of a three-phase effort of training, program development, and oversight, I was asked to leave my practice and move to Delhi for two months to help launch this program, on a voluntary basis. It was quite a challenge, requiring several “tranches” of delegations, but it was thrilling and exhausting.

At the time, there were 32 million cases backlogged in the Indian courts and monkeys running rampant throughout the courthouse, and there was a poor court infrastructure, among many other problems. Nonetheless, since its inception, the Tis Hazari mediation program has successfully addressed tens of thousands of cases, and similar court-annexed programs have expanded throughout Delhi and elsewhere in the country.

In particular, the success in Delhi led to a subsequent invitation to work in the state of Karnataka in 2007, where I served as project director for the establishment of the Bangalore Mediation Centre. There I co-trained (with a U.S. federal magistrate judge) 40 lawyers in a week-long program, which was followed by personal coaching of new mediators, program systems development, recordkeeping, and oversight of quality services.

This program, and others in India today, with the continuing support and sponsorship of the trial courts, the high courts, and the Supreme Court of India, have also resolved many tens of thousands of cases.

Going on my own, new road

The excitement and importance of this work has been totally energizing. I maintained a full case workload in the United States during many of these years. Still, my passion for this work, the gratitude of the host countries and their judges, and my new friendships across the globe were all rewards in themselves—so much so that I decided to establish an NGO of my own devoted to the promotion of mediation and ADR centers worldwide.

I still very much enjoyed my litigation practice and clientele and greatly appreciated the support of my firm, Fenwick & West in Silicon Valley. But it was clear to me that, after 45 years of practice, I wanted to create a path toward a post-retirement career in global judicial reform and ADR by starting a new entity.

Consequently, in 2012 I established the Foundation for Sustainable Rule of Law Initiatives (www.fsriadr.org), a 501(c)(3) NGO to achieve these goals. I worked out a mutually acceptable arrangement with my firm to accommodate these dual careers, continuing as an active partner through December 2017. Then, I fully retired to devote myself completely to FSRI as its founder and president on a totally volunteer basis.

Since that time, our work has expanded in India and throughout Bulgaria, Croatia, the Republic of Georgia, Brazil, Liberia, and elsewhere. I have a wonderful board; a small but excellent core of lawyer volunteers; and truly wonderful colleagues around the globe who coordinate and support our work in their home countries. And most importantly, I have a very talented (non-lawyer) wife who has joined and supported me on many of these initiatives overseas.

Building financial and volunteer support

To get FSRI launched, I decided to finance the first year myself; I wanted to get a strong board that was very much mission-focused, with none of us being distracted by time-consuming fundraising.

After the initial success of our first year, I implemented extensive annual fundraising drives, mostly drawing upon my contacts and those of my board, each of which has been comprised of direct and personal appeals for the support of our work. While quite time-intensive, it has been very gratifying to receive the financial donations that have come from a diverse and generous group of donors, including some law firms.

Equally important has been the highly valuable volunteered time of board members, colleagues, and friends in the legal, mediation, and ADR communities each year. In addition, we’ve sought and received significant grants from foundations committed to the rule of law, though, as I learned, applying for grants is a very time-consuming and challenging process.

Despite the compelling importance of the rule of law and peaceful dispute resolution, these democratic values are often taken for granted. So fundraising requires educating and persuading potential donors, especially since we’re dealing with issues involving underserved populations outside the United States. However, as our reputation has grown overseas, we’re also getting support for local expenses and, in a few cases, modest honorariums where they can be afforded.

We welcome new volunteers who have substantial practical mediation and ADR experience. Ideally, our volunteers are also familiar with mediation-center operations and procedure. They also need to be willing and available to travel globally, usually for 7-10 days at a time per project. Volunteers essentially pay their own expenses, though sometimes a small stipend is possible if funds are available.

To date, we’ve been fortunate to benefit greatly from volunteers, whom we designate FSRI mediation ambassadors. They’ve generously given their time and financial support to participate in our work.

Plan for the privilege of serving

I’m very grateful, and indeed privileged, after 50 years of law practice, to have discovered this rewarding and important work. It continues to enrich my life and challenge my capabilities. It also allows me to extend my friendships worldwide and enables me to give back by supporting the rule of law and providing access to timely, effective, and peaceful dispute resolution for underserved populations.

For these reasons, if you haven’t already, I encourage you to identify your passions, seize and experiment with new opportunities, and pursue those endeavors with an eye to a rewarding quality of life after you’ve left the practice of law.

With a thoughtful plan, you can reinvent yourself in a richly purposeful, energizing, and impactful retirement “career” and still balance it all with plenty of retirement leisure as you wish. How can you accomplish this? I recommend the following practical steps:

  1. Identify your true passions in life and work.
  2. Explore activities that engage your passions—and be adventuresome as you do this.
  3. Plan your transition while practicing law through transparent and open coordination with your firm or employer, adjusting your schedule before you fully retire, if you haven’t already done so.
  4. Embrace new opportunities and your “awkward zones,” which harbor great opportunities.
  5. Enjoy and relish the journey as it develops; don’t focus just on the ends.
  6. Be prepared to reinvent yourself for these new challenges, even as you apply your valuable past experiences and skills.

These later chapters in your career and life can be truly among the most rewarding and productive of your lifetime. Welcome the transition, embrace the new opportunities, and enjoy the adventure while making a real contribution.

Vic Schachter

Vic Schachter is the founder and president of the Foundation for Sustainable Rule of Law Initiatives. He has served extensively as a mediator and an advocate representing clients in numerous mediations and arbitrations over his 50-year legal career. He has led and participated in rule-of-law initiatives promoting judicial reform, alternative dispute resolution, and judicial case management in Brazil, Bulgaria, Croatia, India, Liberia, Kosovo, Malaysia, Turkey, and the Republic of Georgia.