Category Archives: retirement

In a world of change and transition: Which way forward?

I had an article that appears this month in Bar Leader, published by ABA Publishing for the ABA Division for Bar Services. The publication covers news and issues of interest to elected officers and staff members at state, local, and special-focus bar associations. Bar Leader is available online to constituents of the ABA Division for Bar Services.

In a world of change and transition: Which way forward?

Volume 41 Number 2

By 

Stephen P. Gallagher has a master of science degree in organizational development and is a lawyer transition coach at his consulting firm, LeadershipCoach.us. Previously, he was director of law office economics and management—one of the first bar association PMA positions—at the New York State Bar Association. He also maintains a Facebook page on the topic of lawyers in transition. Gallagher wishes to thank solo lawyer and friend Leonard E. Sienko Jr. for reading a draft of this article and sharing his own insights.

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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.

Revised Strategy for Retirement/Transition Planning

Law firms throughout the country are struggling to find the balance to keep key people at every stage of development. We talked previously about how retirement should seen as a period of time when senior lawyers can experience new growth opportunities for themselves, their loved ones, and properly handled, this planning process should benefit the broader law firm community in many other ways.

Manayunk Peloton Main Street turn
Manayunk Peloton Main Street turn

The same senior lawyers that many law firms are now looking to sunset may become the untapped resources firms will need to lead the talent pool of the future?

Today, we are facing a shortage, not a surplus of talented lawyers, so law firms must begin to phase out “retirement” as we know it. As a replacement, law firms need to explore how a staged reduction in work hours and responsibilities ahead of full retirement might work. The same must be said for young people entering the profession. Our panelists agreed that no amount of money will be enough to keep talented young people from “jumping-ship” unless firms begin to address their needs and their concerns.

In my experiences with senior lawyers over the years, senior lawyers or pre-retirees are clearly not looking to fade away. They want to find fulfilling activities. They want enriching endeavors. Certainly they want to leisure… at times, and they naturally want to have fun. But, contrary to the popular media view of retirement, the most important thing lawyers anticipating retirement are looking for is their own fulfillment…their own sense of purpose and meaning. The idea of a more flexible retirement option, would allow not only partial retirement, so that senior lawyers can enjoy other pursuits, but also active retirement, wherein seniors can remain productively and socially engaged in the workplace. Going to a more flexible retirement as well as more flexible work schedules for all lawyers will demonstrate a fundamental shift in the way lawyers of all ages live their lives.

“Managing Transition: Making the Most of Change”

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.

William Bridges, Ph.D.
William Bridges, Ph.D.

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. Continue reading “Managing Transition: Making the Most of Change”

Understanding the War for Talent – Aging of the Workforce

The aging of the workforce is something that the legal profession can no longer ignore. The legal marketplace has yet to feel the impact of the loss of massive numbers of baby boomers that will be leaving the profession. Over this same period of time, fewer and fewer “talented” young people are expected to enter the profession. Demographic and economic projections suggest that the shortage of workers will start soon and grow significantly.

Duomo de Milano
Duomo de Milano, Italy

The Employment Policy Foundation (EPF) estimates that 80 percent of the impending labor shortage will involve skills, not number of workers potentially available.[1] Within the next several years, this shift in age distribution will cause law firms to experience an unprecedented “brain drain,” unless dramatic steps are taken by law firm leadership to look for new approaches to attracting and retaining key people. This “War for Talent”[2] is only just beginning. Continue reading Understanding the War for Talent – Aging of the Workforce