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Lawyering with Dementia

Michael L Goldblatt


  • Navigating Dementia in Legal Practice: Lawyers facing dementia challenges, especially in solo practices, should consider early retirement planning.
  • Tips for Lawyers with Dementia Risk: Use calendars for reminders, schedule regular checkups, be aware of ethical reporting requirements, switch to a gerontologist for healthcare, and plan for cognitive impairment.
  • Resources for Transition: State bar assistance programs offer confidential support. Planning finances, healthcare, and case transfer ensures a smooth retirement transition.
Lawyering with Dementia

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About 50 years ago, Kenny Rogers recorded "The Gambler,” a song about two strangers on a train talking about poker. During the chorus, the gambler tells the importance of “knowing when to hold ‘em, when to fold em, and when to walk away.” Knowing when to walk away from a legal career can be difficult for someone in the early stages of dementia, and impossible in the later stages. The challenges are greater for lawyers with solo practices.

Fortunately, most state bar organizations have programs to assist lawyers with personal problems like mental health issues. Lawyer assistance programs maintain confidentiality and accept calls from lawyers and referrals from their clients, colleagues, and family. Age is a significant risk factor for dementia, so you should make it a part of retirement planning. Consider the following tips and resources to prepare for the possibility that you may experience the onset of dementia before you retire.

Calendaring - use apps, calendars, and planners for reminders of what to do and when you need to do it.

Checkups - schedule annual medical checkups and mention changes in your cognitive abilities to your doctor.

Ethics - be mindful of reporting requirements and ethical rules that require lawyers to terminate
representation when a mental condition materially impairs their abilities.

Healthcare - consider switching from a regular primary care physician to a gerontologist since healthcare needs change with age.

Planning - inventory your cases, organize your financial affairs, and grant a durable power of attorney to prepare for the possibility of cognitive impairment.

Support - ask co-workers, family, and friends for help if you sense a deterioration in cognitive abilities.

Symptoms - be on the lookout for warning signs of early onset dementia.

Retiring - set target dates for reducing workload and transitioning to retirement.


The practice of law provides financial and spiritual fulfillment, but there comes a time to set your career aside and transition to retirement. Facilitate a smooth adjustment by carefully planning finances, healthcare, and transfer of cases. Use the resources of your state bar association's lawyer assistance program to help maintain your dignity and reputation if you become cognitively challenged. See the accompanying list of articles, books, checklists, and websites for additional guidance.