I realized how much has changed about the way we view careers when a young woman I have been dealing with professionally told me she was leaving her firm to take a “mini-retirement” and move to Portugal for a while. She was feeling burned out after working hard through the pandemic and wanted to take some time to think about her next steps. Though she was not yet 25 years old, she was highly educated, had impressive credentials and experience, and had lived, studied, worked and traveled in several countries on different continents. She knew she had a number of job options and felt no hurry to take one; she wanted some time for herself, to reflect, enjoy life, and plan her next move.
This young woman represents the radical shift that is happening in the traditional career model most of us are familiar with, where retirement happens later in life. In the traditional model, people went to school in their 20s, worked through their 30s, 40s and 50s, then retired in their 60s. But today, careers are becoming choppier and longer, their trajectories less linear and more cyclical. People move in and out of work, alternating periods of employment with “mini-retirements” to explore, study, or do whatever they choose. And rather than trade work for leisure at 65, people in their 60s, 70s and 80s are continuing to work and remain highly productive. Encore careers and entrepreneurial ventures among older people are now commonplace. Because of my age and my work, I see it all the time. One of my clients in her late 50s is planning to retire from law in a few years and open a gym; a friend who was the Executive Director of a national medical association until she was in her 60s left and became a best-selling author; and a professional colleague started a successful legal software business in his 60s.
Retirement today must be addressed within the context of these changing career patterns and longer, more active lives. There is no longer a standard retirement age or typical retirement, especially for professionals. Many people will have periodic mini-retirements, like my friend in Portugal, starting early in their careers. Older people will continue to work as long as they want to and can, in one way or another. Some retirements, whether short-term or permanent, will be matters of personal choice; others will be due to job loss, family demands, or other external factors.
In the future, managing transitions into and out of careers, will become an increasingly important and valuable skill. Deciding to retire, and strategizing what will happen afterward, allows you to assert agency over your life and career. You can select your own path and destination, and plan when and how to get there. That’s why I’m no longer surprised – as I was at first – that my book, Retirement by Design, is being used by people in their 30s as well as in their 50s and older. The book is a workbook that asks questions, presents exercises, and suggests approaches to help professionals chart their own course at any age. And that’s why people give copies of it to their spouse, friends, colleagues, and parents.
Whether you are thinking about retiring soon, believe you are years away from retirement, or think a mini-retirement sounds like a good idea, I have many resources for you in addition to Retirement by Design. Below is a list of some of my recent interviews, podcasts, articles and webcasts about retirement. You’ll find many other resources on my website. I’ve also added information below about a new book on succession planning, an upcoming symposium on retirement and succession that will interest many of you, and a new ABA report that provides a comprehensive look at the legal profession today.
If you are looking for a retirement coach, I would like to help you. If you lead a firm and want to facilitate respectful and effective retirement and succession processes for your professionals, I would be happy to help you, too. You can contact me here.
- “Retirement Revolution” is a written summary of an interview conducted by Cheryl Dellecese for Smith College about why conventional views of retirement are obsolete and how to define and create the retirement you want. The topics I discuss include money myths about retirement, emotional disruptions retirement brings and how to deal with them, the need to start planning for retirement – and possibly multiple retirements – at a much younger age than ever before, and the need for social connections during and after your transition into retirement.
- Do you need to talk with senior partners about retirement and succession? My article, “Making Retirement Discussions with Your Senior Partners More Productive and Succession More Effective,” published in Legal Management by the Association of Legal Administrators, offers some practical advice.
- “Retirement Is No Longer Just for Seniors: How to Design Your Future Now” is an episode of The Lawyer’s Edge podcast series. Host Elise Holtzman and I talk about the changing definition of retirement, how senior lawyers are managing transitions to an uncertain future, and what you can do now, even if you are still young, to prepare for your own unique version of retirement.
- On a recent Counsel to Counsel Podcast, host Steve Seckler and I discuss various aspects of retirement, including how senior lawyers can find meaning later in their careers, the benefits of transitioning clients to other lawyers, and creative ways to figure out what comes next in their own lives.
- Thought Leader Life is a brief chat with Mitchell Levy describing my retirement work and why I do it.
- The Association of Corporate Counsel published my article, “When Should You Retire?” in the ACC Docket. It discusses retirement timing considerations for in-house counsel.
- “Retirement Is No Time to Stop Working,” published in the ABA’s Experience Magazine, discusses the ongoing value of work in your life, whether for pay or not, and the various ways you can include some sort of work in your retirement schedule.
- In “Exit Strategies: Embracing Career Transitions,” a webcast for Northwestern Law School Alumni Association, Kit Chaskin and I discuss career transitions, including job changes and retirement.
- Retirement planning necessarily includes succession planning for your practice. Here’s a review I wrote of a new book, Designing a Succession Plan for Your Law Practice, by Tom Lenfestey and Camille Stell. It’s a valuable guide for any lawyers, but especially those in small and solo firms, who want to know how to prepare themselves and their firms for their eventual departure.
Managing Partner Forum Fall Symposium
Registration is now open for the Managing Partner Forum Fall Symposium, Oct. 6-7, 2021, in Chicago. The subject of this symposium is “Passing the Torch: Guiding Your Law Firm through Succession.” The Managing Partner Forum is operated by John Remsen; I am co-chairing this symposium with him and Don Mrozek. The agenda is designed especially for managing partners and leaders of smaller and midsize law firms. Agenda topics include:
- Firm Valuation Models
- Passing Ownership to Your Current Lawyers
- Mergers and Acquisitions
- Risk Management Issues and Concerns
- Transitioning Client Relationships
- Emotional Aspects of Letting Go
You can learn more about the conference and register here.
ABA Report on the legal profession
The ABA’s recently published “Profile of the Legal Profession 2021,” is a 140-page compilation of statistics and trends about the legal profession in 11 areas. It includes detailed discussions of lawyer demographics and an update on how the pandemic has affected lawyers.
Here are some of the findings from that report relating to older lawyers (defined as age 62+) and retirement:
- The median age of lawyers is 47.1 years, compared to the median age of all US workers, which is 42.5. (In 1980, the median age of lawyers was 39.)
- Roughly 14% of all practicing lawyers, or 1 in 7, are age 65 or older; this is double the 7%, or 1 in 14, of all US workers who continue to work past age 65.
- One-third of older lawyers (33%) said the pandemic changed their retirement plans. Among those lawyers, slightly more than half (53%) said the pandemic delayed retirement. Just under half (47%) said it hastened their retirement.
- Lawyers who are 70 to 74 years old do more pro bono than any other age group (an average of 58 pro bono hours a year vs. 37 hours for all lawyers).