June 26, 2018

Tips for Lawyers Leaving Practice

By Marilyn Tucker

In my book, I have shared stories of some amazing lawyers with whom I spoke about the next stage in their career/life planning. It was exhilarating to talk to these lawyers and to learn:

  1. How they went about the process of deciding when to retire (that is if they had the choice)
  2. How much exploring and planning they did ahead of time, and
  3. How they determined the next steps for staying involved— “rewiring” or doing something quite different from what they had spent years doing.

There are many similarities and some differences in their approaches. Several interviewees continued to work for their law firm for short periods of time after they retired: some trying to “hold on” and others simply hoping to have all projects completed and in the hands of competent colleagues.

Many interviewees wanted to get involved in doing something “international” whereas others did far too much international travel throughout their careers and did not want any more of those tiring excursions.

A surprisingly large percentage of the interviewees were determined to spend time giving back to local and global communities.

I heard a great deal about the importance of hobbies and how having outside interests facilitates adjustment to this new stage of life. Of course, hobbies ran the gamut, but among the group, music, the arts, and gardening were prominent.

This list is not exhaustive, but does provide some sense of the commonalities these lawyers were experiencing as they made decisions about “rewiring”.

You certainly are aware that retirement is a very complex experience for everyone—an experience characterized by both gains and losses as well as major shifts in identity and routines. While the prospect of retirement conjures up imagines of days free from the demands of work. On the other hand, the idea of leaving the workforce is one that is often fraught with worrisome thoughts and fears. There is often a combination of excitement and anxiety as people approach retirement. The excitement comes from having more free time; the anxiety comes for figuring out what you are going to do with all of the time.

While for many of us the very word “retirement” connotes retreating; for others, “retirement” does not mean “the end” but rather “the beginning”—a time to rewire and refire. It is a time to shift gears and to leave behind some activities while simultaneously moving toward new adventures, new paths, and a new identity.

In this regard, I remember asking one interviewee what prompted her to retire and whether her decision was related to health concerns. She responded with great energy and enthusiasm and said, “No, not because I am in poor health, but because I am in excellent health.”

I was quite concerned about another interviewee when I learned that his law firm had an age 60 mandatory retirement policy. I expressed my concern to him, and much to my surprise, learned that he was not at all concerned. He attributed his optimism to having been a high school and college wrestler. He said, “As a wrestler, you give it you all during each period, but when the whistle blows, you move to the side or out of the ring.” When the whistle blew at age 60, he understood and was not worried. “You learn to take these things in stride.”

What constitutes a successful retirement? The question about successful retirement is one that must be answered by each of us individually. Goals and aspirations for your next chapter in life, or the “next rung on the ladder”, will differ dramatically for each of us. These goals will depend upon many factors: our health, family obligations, energy level, financial situation, and our personal styles among other things.

Successful retirement is not an event; it is a process that takes planning, time, and experimentation and can lead to new opportunities and self-fulfillment. Additionally, successful retirement is not simply a laissez-faire acceptance and adjustment to change but rather a proactive creation of a new lifestyle that is productive and emotionally rewarding.

Moreover, successful retirement—regardless of our own unique definition of what constitutes “success”—requires that we monitor our own progress. Two of the interviewees I regard as having succeeded in their retirement are incredibly conscientious about keeping their goals front and center. They make certain that they are accomplishing what they set out to do, and they each hold themselves accountable. As a result, they are truly successful in achieving their own version of a successful retirement. Although he retired quite a few years ago, one of these individuals does not let more than a month go by without reviewing his goals and making certain he is on the path that is right for him. Indeed, he was determined to be as successful in retirement as he was during his active career years, and he has found a way to make it happen.

Recently, I heard from a very close friend, who retired two years ago and is having a great time serving as a docent in one of Washington, DC’s museums—a perfect retirement for my history buff friend. He noted a recent Wall Street Journal article by David Ekerdt and quoted to me, “A busy retirement is absolutely fine. But so is a not-so-busy retirement.” Each of us must determine what we want out of this stage of life, and answers and styles will be different for each one of us.  My friend obviously knows me well and knows that for me a “busy retirement” is likely to be my modus operandi.

The interviewees highlighted were actively involved in devising their own successful brand of retirement. How do their stories help you in thinking about what you will create out of the dozens of options available? Are you up for this challenge? Are you motivated to create a plan that you too will feel passionately about?


Marilyn Tucker

Marilyn Tucker is the Director of Alumni Career Services & International Internship Program at Georgetown University Law Center. She has previously been involved with the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession as well as the ABA’s Law Practice Management Section. Her book, Success Tips for Lawyers Leaving Practice:  Rewire, Refire – Do Not Retire, was published this spring.