William Bridges, author of “Managing Transition: Making the Most of Change” (New York: Perseus, 2003) defines Transition as the inner process through which people come to terms with a change. The process takes place over a period of time as they let go of the way things used to be and reorient themselves to the way that things are now. Transition management is based on the idea that the best way to get people through transition is to affirm their experience and to help them to deal with it. In a law firm setting, managing transition means helping people to make that difficult process less painful and disruptive. Many law firms have been following the mistaken idea that the best way to get people through a transition is to deny that they are even in a transition.
Getting through this transition is not easy. Each individual will need to start where the transition itself starts: with letting go of the inner connections to the way things were. As we age, we will be faced with how we might cut back in full-time employment. What are some of the things senior lawyers might have to let go of? Income will certainly be affected; definitely there may be a loss of intellectual challenge; possibly a loss of a group of colleagues and friends; a regular place to go every morning; the familiar way you have structured your time over many years. You also will be confronted with the possible lose of professional identity. These are some of the things that leaving the full-time practice of law will force the senior lawyer to think about losing.
In order for law firms to help senior lawyers through this transition/renewal stage of life, they will need an adequate change management plan in place. They should determine where senior lawyers are in the transition process, and they will need to develop strategies for helping people let go of the old way of doing things. Bridges talks of the need for guiding people through the neutral zone, and utilizing that in-between state creatively. Only after working through such a process will the firm be ready to fully appreciate the true value senior lawyers should be able to bring to the firm in this aging marketplace.
Today, senior lawyers need to approach retirement as a way of gaining renewed purpose in their lives. Pre-retirees are ready for something new, something different, perhaps something novel, and certainly something interesting at deep personal levels. Just as in career transition, individuals need to generate options. Pre-retirees may need help in generating options for themselves.