February 24, 2021 Program Synopsis

Synopsis: Working Differently--What Lawyers Who Plan to Never Retire Need to Know

By Judith Kurnick

Do you have colleagues who say, “I’m going to work until I drop,” or the equivalent? Has the same thought crossed your own mind? Lawyers who subscribe to this thinking are often making outdated assumptions about both the benefits and the alternatives.

The culprit is often the equally outdated word “retirement.” Originated by the Social Security Administration in 1935, the term signified to our parents a point in time when the husband (wives rarely worked full-time) would reach a certain birthday and leave his entire career behind --after the requisite party-- hopefully to enter an endless paradise of leisure populated by exotic trips, grandchildren, and plenty of golf. But what we often saw instead was a few years of pleasure, if the retiree was lucky, and possibly boredom, soon followed by descent into frailty and illness.

Today many employers, including law firms, still have policies—formal or informal—to ease out lawyers in their mid-60’s. But these policies are ignoring important developments in health and longevity. Thanks to improvements in medicine, diet and exercise, and technology, many 65-year-olds are far more vigorous and productive than those of previous generations. And they can expect to live, on average, at least 20 more years.

Writing in Forbes in 2019, MIT AgeLab Director Joseph Coughlin put it this way: “Two-plus decades of retirement is about 8,000 days…roughly the same amount of time from birth to legal drinking age–21 years old. Life between 21 and midlife in the later 40s is another 8,000 days. And, from midlife to the seemingly preordained retirement age of 65 is about another 8,000 days. The point is retirement is not a brief period of life after full-time work. Rather, it is equal to one-third of your adult life.”

So, what’s wrong with working as long as you can beyond the traditional retirement age? The answer is nothing---as long as you work differently. Why and what that means will be the subject of my conversation with attorney Robert H. Louis during the ABA webinar Working Differently: What Lawyers Who Never Want to Retire Need to Know, on March 23 at 3 pm EST.

Here is a brief preview of the topics we will discuss.

  • What lifestyle changes can enhance our work and our well-being as we enter our 60s and 70s?
  • Why is it important to have a plan to integrate these changes into our lives?
  • What are some simple steps lawyers can take now to begin thinking about a plan?
  • What can law firms and companies do to facilitate healthier transitions that support senior lawyers as well as their colleagues and clients?

The late Senator Paul Tsongas famously wrote, “On their deathbed, no one ever said, 'I wish I had spent more time with my business.'" Many others have since repeated this truth. Why do so many lawyers have a particularly tough time accepting the idea?

Jim Markus, a finance attorney in Dallas who, in his mid-sixties, recently moved to the firm Haynes and Boone, pointed out two excellent reasons. With most days measured in billable hours, lawyers enjoy seeing clear evidence of their productivity. Add to this what Jim calls “the thrill of the deal” that comes with closing a transaction or preparing for trial. It can be hard to imagine giving up those powerful stimuli. In fact, the dopamine hits they produce might well be compared to those generated by risky behaviors like gambling or extreme sports.

Yet for many people, this later stage in life is a time of integration, of connecting the dots, and even of fresh creativity. It can be a time to experiment, try new things, and discover new interests. According to research psychologist Laura L. Carstensen of the Stanford Center on Longevity, later-in-life people become increasingly selective, investing greater resources in emotionally meaningful goals and activities. The rewards of these experiences can be far richer than money can buy.

So how can lawyers reap the benefits of this powerfully satisfying time while also continuing to work? Bob Louis and I will be sharing some tools and techniques that can get you started. We invite you to join our webinar to find out more.


Judith Kurnick

Judith Kurnick Consulting

Career transitions coach, speaker, and journalist Judith Kurnick guides senior-level executives and professionals in creating a vision and sustainable plan for a vibrant and purposeful next chapter. She has been featured on Comcast’s Money Matters and Philadelphia’s ABC TV station, and has presented to the Philadelphia Bar Association, Wells Fargo Advisors, Wharton Alumni’s Pi Delta Epsilon, Philadelphia Society for People and Strategy, and the Forum of Executive Women, among others.

Judith Kurnick


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