Sole Practitioners’ Challenges in Moving Away from Full-Time Practice

My purpose in writing this blog is to highlight many issues that lawyers need to be address in winding-down a law practice. I hope to give readers a better appreciation for the scope and breadth of transition planning as it relates to end-of-career issues. This blog is not necessarily a “how-to” template or a “do-it-yourself” manual for structuring law firm retirement and transition planning. I do hope to provide more detailed instructions for sole practitioners in closing down a practice. This is a too important topic to be left to chance. The hope to build a playbook of best practices for mid-level and more senior attorneys looking for advice and support in transitioning away from full-time law practice.

There are literally thousands of self-help books on finding happiness in retirement. I will be referencing some of these resources throughout my writings, but unfortunately, I have not found any books that address what I see as the somewhat unique needs of lawyers in private practice, and sole practitioners in particular. I hope I will be able to help you develop your own transition/retirement plan.

As most experienced lawyers already well know, the practice of law has become increasingly challenging both professionally and personally. My personal experiences over the past thirty years leaves me to believe that sole practitioners are facing even greater challenges then other lawyers who practice together. The smaller the law firm the greater the challenges to survive and thrive. Studies have shown that lawyers are increasingly dissatisfied with their chosen profession.[1] Sole practitioners and lawyers in small firm practice are not immune to bouts with lawyer depression, stress related physical ailments, alcoholism, drug use, and other self-destructive behaviors and ills. Research is showing that these ills are increasing within the profession at a steady pace.[2] It appears to be a good time to begin planning for a transition away from a full-time practice.

The same ABA survey that showed that 68% of bar membership practiced in solo and small firm settings,[3] asked members whether they had a plan in place to maintain their practice in case of death, disability or Bar discipline. Among those who responded to the survey, 59 percent said they did not have a plan should such a crisis prevent them from practicing law.[4] So, there are many lawyers in communities throughout the Country who need help in planning for life transitions, including those interested in moving away from full-time practice.

[1] See you Patrick J Schiltz, On Being a Happy, Healthy, and Ethical Member of an Unhappy, Unhealthy, and Unethical Profession, 52 Vanderbilt Law Review: 871, 882 (1999). (For almost 30 years, the University of Michigan law school has been surveying its former students five years after they graduated. The percentage of graduates working as solo practitioners or in firms of fifty or fewer lawyers who were “quite satisfied” with careers five years after graduation fell from 45% for members the classes of 1976 and 1977 to 37% for members of the class of 1990 and 1991.)

[2] See Ted David, Can Lawyers Learn to Be Happy? The Practical Lawyer (August 2001), available at https://www.lawlytics.com/blog/can-lawyers-be-happy/. Out of 105 professions, according to a Johns Hopkins University study, lawyers top the list for major depression. Lawyers are depressed at a rate 3.4 times higher than employed persons generally substance-abuse for lawyers is double the national level.

[3] ABA Press Release, ABA Services Solo and Small Firm Lawyers with New Online Resource Center (1/19/2012) Is available at http://www.americanbar.org/portals/solo_home/solo_home.html. P. 203.

[4] ABA Press Release, ABA Services Solo and Small Firm Lawyers with New Online Resource Center (1/19/2012) Is available at http://www.americanbar.org/portals/solo_home/solo_home.html. P. 203.