“Workin’ 9 to 5, what a way to make a livin’
Barely gettin’ by, it’s all takin’ and no givin’
They just use your mind and they never give you credit
It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it”
~ Dolly Parton
Approximately 10,000 baby boomers retire each day. Some may retire at 62, while others continue working past the age of 66. In 2015, the national average of people aged 65+ was 19 percent, while Colorado’s population in this category grew by 29 percent.
The ABA Journal reported in August 2016 that nearly half of the partners in the nation’s top 200 law firms are baby boomers and that 16 percent of them will retire in the next five years. This does not account for what is happening in smaller firms. Are lawyers and law firms ready for this onslaught of retirements? Are lawyers financially, psychologically and intellectually prepared to leave the practice of law when the decision to quit is made?
When the recession hit in 2009, lawyers who were contemplating retirement saw their savings and 401(k) accounts plummet. Many realized that they could not afford to retire and had to continue practicing law. Eight years have passed, and the market appears to have recovered. Yet there are many lawyers who would find it difficult to maintain the same lifestyle if they stopped working altogether.
Many lawyers believe that they can work part-time well into their late 60s and 70s because they are in a profession that allows flexibility. The reality is otherwise. Gone are the days of firms providing senior lawyers with an office and a salary for the purpose of mentoring, offering expertise in a particular area of law or introducing younger lawyers to his or her clients. To succeed in today’s tightening legal market, law firms must and do operate as a business.
Law firms, consultants and others debate whether mandatory retirement is necessary or proper. Some law firms have a mandatory retirement age despite recent action taken by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against prominent law firms and other professional firms. These groups believe that mandatory retirement is needed to keep law firms fiscally healthy and competitive. Others argue that if a lawyer is competent and in demand, no reason exists to force a lawyer to retire at a particular age. Americans are living longer, and the concern about having resources that last for a long period of time is real. Regardless of which camp you are in, the debate will continue.
Lawyers who are approaching retirement but who want to remain at a law firm have to determine whether it is possible for them to continue in the same role or whether the firm will encourage them to transition into a different role that most likely will result in a change in compensation. Lawyers who leave large or medium-sized law firms or government positions and decide to open their own practice must determine if they want to and are capable of operating a business and practicing law. This can be daunting.
Having discussed these issues with other lawyers and reviewed a number of related articles, I would encourage any lawyer contemplating retirement to consider the following:
- Know yourself. What are your goals for the next 10 or 15 years?
- Do you need help pinpointing what you want to do? There are coaches who help lawyers plan for the “Next Phase of Life.”
- Do you want to continue working? If yes, do you want to continue as a lawyer or develop some other career or business?
- If you decide to continue working as a lawyer, what will your practice look like?
- Have you taken stock of your financial picture and what you will need if you stop working or reduce your hours?
- Do you need the intellectual challenge that practicing law provides? If yes, how will you satisfy that craving if you stop practicing law?
- Do you want to stop practicing law in a firm but want to provide pro bono legal services? There are plenty of fulfilling opportunities: take an MVL case; work with veterans; assist at clinics offered by the DBA; work on immigration issues; or find other organizations that provide pro bono services.
I wonder whether the profession is prepared when we lose such a valuable and experienced population of the legal community. The number of lawyers who are retiring is greater than the number of lawyers who are entering the practice of law. If lawyers and law firms do not address the impact of this loss, the practice of law in private practice will look very different in as little as five years. D