Reprinted with permission of the Texas Bar Blog.
It had been three decades of practicing law and I was starting to think about retirement, well, maybe within the next 8 years.
The changes appeared almost out of nowhere, so gently, so quietly, it was hard for me to recognize when they started. I became a bit more forgetful and tripped periodically, feeling that my balance was affected. My family members were often cross with me for having to remind me of things but I assumed it was just caused by their stressful lives. My ever-patient and loving spouse noticed I was more irritable and assumed it was my stress from the practice. Eventually, an intervening medical condition required surgery and after a short and successful recovery from that condition, I couldn't seem to bounce back to my old self. Slowly, I began to abdicate responsibilities to my associate and experienced great relief from daily stress as a result. I knew this wasn't like me, this not being in charge, but I was at a loss of what else to do. I knew I was slipping but I didn't want anyone else to know. Slowly, I began to make long overdue changes in the office operation and administration and experienced even greater relief from the stress of being employer/boss/cook and bottle washer. Soon thereafter, either because of the economy or because others were noticing my changing condition, the office phone rang less often and more than one colleague commented to me that I seemed to have less personal drive and questioned whether I had experienced a personality change!
Looking back over those two years, as I delegated more and made changes producing less stress, this seemed to be the best part of my transition from practicing law to retirement. Definitely there was less money, but also there were fewer expenses and less stress and less responsibility. I was lucky – I could feel safe and comfortable in my practice with the exceptional help of an associate and paralegal at close hand.
Frankly, as my intellectual powers faded, it was a relief not to have to deal with a rapidly changing legal practice that required networking, websites, email, Facebook, twitter, etc. I delegated all responsibility of law office management matters. But as I became more dependent on others to manage the practice and less financially connected to others in my office, it was clear that close supervision of the practice was needed so there was no opportunity to take advantage of a lawyer in decline. Thank goodness for that associate and other office staff. They knew what was happening and protected me and my clients from any harm. As I got used to the idea of slowing down, I continued to meet with long-term clients and represent them at uncontested hearings, with another lawyer or paralegal assisting and with me relying on a script of steps as a checklist. This was a good time for me and made the conclusion of my practice a much easier concept to accept.
My family came to me repeatedly, expressing concerns about liability and the possibility of a client complaint. I consulted a doctor and in light of those concerns and a medical recommendation that it was time, I began the final 4 month transition to close my practice. We all experienced fear about the finality. After decades of jumping up in the morning, racing to the courthouse with a practice packed with clients, it was unsettling to all of us that this was to be simply swept away. There was even fear that I would have nothing to do and be lonely without contact with the legal community.
When the actual day for closing the office finally came, it was emotional but also a huge relief. Armed with advice from a lawyer who advises about closing a practice and the suggestions I received, I knew what steps to take and resources available for help and support. My support team and I dealt with 100+ boxes, a shredding challenge, distributing office furnishings and equipment, a good-by letter to all my wonderful clients (which ignited a huge response of appreciation) and a party with many toasts and cake at my office. Then, the final door closed. My family planned a surprise trip and off I went, fading into the sunset but feeling relief.
Since I have settled into retirement, I am surprised how good it is. Of course, admittedly with a diagnosis that affects my physical and mental ability, I am not the person and lawyer I used to be.
I can even afford my new life, an issue that previously had caused me great anxiety. I receive disability benefits, retirement benefits, and have some savings accumulated over a long career. I know from experience how important it is for lawyers in their 40s to start saving now, as my situation once again proves you never know what will happen in your future.
Now I wake up when I want and choose my activities for the day. I volunteer, take a computer class for seniors, participate in my faith community, attend periodic therapy to fine tune and maintain my abilities, and continue to have my weekly lawyers' lunch group to enjoy the company of other lawyers and yes, remember the stress of it all. I had traveled with my family for short vacations before and now I have the time to plan and accommodate family schedules and do more extensive travel. I still have plenty of company and my dog now has plenty of time to walk me.
I do still feel occasional anxiety about my medical future and continuing ability to connect with colleagues and friends. You know what? I was in high anxiety about my forced retirement and today it is a relief. Doesn't that assure I will accept and enjoy my future?