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Voice of Experience

Voice of Experience: March 2023 | Transition

There Are Many Ways to Have a Legacy

Seth D Kramer


  • Retirement can trigger stress, anxiety, and depression, as lawyers often define themselves by their professions, and the loss of identity and routine can affect their sense of self-worth.
  • Recalling past successes is identified as a helpful strategy for coping with stress.
  • It's important to recognize one's contributions and the enduring positive memories and relationships created during a legal career.
There Are Many Ways to Have a Legacy

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For many attorneys, making the transition to retirement can be an unsettling experience. Although moving on to a new phase of life can be exciting, there is also the potential for mental health issues to arise. As Lawrence Robinson and Melinda Smith write in, retirement can “trigger stress, anxiety, and depression.” As they point out, “Many of us define ourselves by what we do for a living. … The loss of identity, routine, and goals can impact your sense of self-worth, leave you feeling rudderless, or even lead to depression.”

I can definitely relate to this observation. After close to 40 years of practicing Family Law, it was difficult to retire. Being a lawyer was a large part of my self-definition. To help me transition into my second act, I would often think of past professional triumphs. I would vividly recall big successes in court. As I would remember them, these were the times in court when I truly was the “value added” in the situation.

In all honesty, this was a romanticized version of my practice. Most of the time I was juggling demanding clients, difficult opposing counsel, and the inflexible demands of the court. But thinking about those choice memories of past successes would make me feel on top of the world and would brighten my day.

And apparently indulging in the occasional reminiscence is a mentally healthy thing to do. As Megan E. Speer and Mauricio R. Delgado point out in a 2017 study published by the National Institutes of Health, recalling past successful experiences can be an effective “strategy for coping with stress.” And stress is one of the mental health traps to watch out for in retirement.

As such, my mind will often wander back to my pre-retirement years of practicing law, and my spirits will be lifted. Sometimes, I feel like a disc jockey on an oldies station playing the “greatest hits” of my career. Recently, however, I received a “blast from the past” that may now be an unexpected addition to my greatest hits playlist.

Last month, I got a text from a former colleague of mine. I was asked if I remembered Person X. I did not. My former colleague had had a client interview with Person X, who had at one time been a client of mine and regretted not continuing with me. And in fact, Person X was quite effusive in praising me.

In the practice of Family Law, it is a common occurrence for litigants to change attorneys, so Person X did not stand out to me. In four decades of practice, I had often parted ways with clients over tactics, ethics, or economic concerns. But it was much more unusual to be praised by someone who had moved on before finishing the process. Hence, I was very touched by this text exchange.

That evening, I received an email alert from an online rating service informing me that a new review had been added to my business page. I didn’t know that I still had a page! I went to my page on the review site and there—along with the other reviews from several years ago, when I was practicing—was the newly posted review. The post was very complimentary. It stated: “I wish I was wise enough to appreciate Seth Kramer and his work. Years later I still have lots of regrets for doubting him. He was right and I was so wrong.”

The review was signed with initials that I did not recognize. In light of the timing, I suspect that the post was done by Person X. It gave me a nice feeling to know that after so many years I am remembered with respect by a former client.

There are many ways to look back at the practice of law. My career did not just consist of my successes in court. I had an impact beyond what I remembered. I gave clients good legal advice—and some, years later, believe that I gave them the right advice. And that will add to the positive thoughts and memories that raise my spirits as I go through retirement.