Gray but not retired: Ways to stay engaged in law

November 2017 | Around the ABA

The legal profession is aging – it’s been called the “silver tsunami,” said Roberta Tepper and Elizabeth Deane, authors of the article, “Gray but Not Gone,” in the July/August issue of the ABA Law Practice Division’s Law Practice Magazine.

According to a 2016 survey of its members conducted by the State Bar of Arizona, 21 percent of respondents were age 60 or older, compared with only 4 percent in the same study conducted three years prior.

In the article, Tepper and Deane discussed what it means for lawyers who are easing out of practicing and the opportunities available to them.

“Instead of abandoning older lawyers, we should be leveraging their talents and their experience in a variety of ways. The depth and breadth of knowledge and skills attained during a long career can be leveraged to keep our senior lawyers engaged in both the legal community and the community at large as ambassadors of the profession,” they wrote.

Many lawyers are practicing longer, while others are finding a path to full- or part-time retirement. Here are six ways senior lawyers can stay engaged in the profession:

Pro bono or “low bono.” Lawyers at or nearing retirement with a desire to practice on a reduced scale or at a reduced volume of work can provide legal representation to clients with limited means of income.

Mentoring. Those who have remained current can serve as excellent resources for younger lawyers, and senior lawyers who have partially or fully retired still have a lot to offer in terms of mentoring relationships. “Newer lawyers are comfortable with social media, with emailing, with texting,” the authors wrote. “The skills at which they are not as adept, however, are vital for building and growing a legal practice – the interpersonal, one-on-one interactions involving negotiation, creating client loyalty and cultivating referrals and new business. These are the skills in which senior lawyers, who built their practices on handshakes and social connections, can effectively mentor.”

Continuing Legal Education. There are opportunities for senior lawyers to serve as CLE faculty. This is common because they are the experts and can serve as a valuable advisory group for brainstorming and curricula development, especially since this group may include lawyers who argued notable cases or were responsible for changing a law.

State or local bar committees. These groups spend limitless hours shaping or refining bar policy, proposing changes in the law and accomplishing the missions for which bar associations were created. “This volunteer group of lawyers can provide mutual benefits for bars and senior lawyers because they are often the backbones of any bar association,” the authors wrote.  

Community volunteers. A variety of opportunities exist for senior lawyers in community volunteer work, especially those with higher-level education and business skills, including inspiring younger people to consider careers in the legal profession, hosting mock trials and mock congressional hearings.

Support for senior lawyers. “Many bars around the country have senior lawyer divisions, offering a variety of resources for those who are older but still practicing, as well as those who are at or near retirement,” wrote Tepper and Deane.

State, local and affinity bars also allow retired lawyers to stay connected. “Providing support by way of social functions, online communities or senior divisions may keep senior lawyers engaged and encourage those who have slipped away but wish to re-engage to do so,” the authors wrote.

Tepper is the lawyer assistance programs director at the State Bar of Arizona, where she heads the team that supports the bar’s sections and is actively involved in outreach to senior lawyers. She is the president-elect of the board of directors of the Arizona Women Lawyers Association. Deane is the chief member services officer at the State Bar of Arizona. She is actively involved in the bar’s outreach to senior lawyers, is on the board of directors of the Arizona Women Lawyers Association and is a past president of the Arizona Society of Association Executives. 

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