Think twice about retirement

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Edward Poll
Dolan Media Newswires

Death is a fact of life. The only unknown is when you will die. What is known is that people generally live longer now. This longevity affects people’s decision about when to retire.
In the mid-1930s, with the passage of the original Social Security Act, the country needed to select a retirement age. The age of 65 was chosen because it reflected the average life expectancy at the time. In fact, according to one estimate, only about 2 percent of the population lived past 65. Today, the average life expectancy is approaching 80.

Consequently, many people — including lawyers — are ready, able and willing to work past the traditional retirement age. According to one study by legal management consultant Altman Weil, the closer to retirement a lawyer gets, the more likely he or she is to oppose mandatory retirement age. Interviews with aging lawyers suggest that they do not want to retire at 65, although some want to work part time.

Due to advances in modern medicine, we not only live longer, but our quality of life is better. On the other hand, due to the effects of the recession, our finances may be too tenuous to support our desired lifestyle in retirement, leaving many baby boomers wondering when they should retire from the practice of law.

When coaching lawyers who want to leave the practice, I typically start with several questions:

• Why do you want to leave your practice?

• What do you want to do with your life once you leave the practice?

• Do you want to quit working and retire, or do you want to start a new adventure?

• Can you achieve the same objective without leaving the practice of law?

• Are you really ready to let go?

How do these questions resonate with you? The decision will depend on many things, including whether you have the funds necessary to take the leap, what must be set in motion to ensure that your clients are transitioned to new representation, and more.

In addition to the professional and business considerations, what many lawyers overlook is that leaving your law practice will be an emotional process. You must want to do so and believe that it is the best choice for you.

Basically, you must answer the question: “What do I want to be when I grow up?” This is a question that I ask myself every day, but it is even more critical at this stage of life. Each person’s answer is unique and can change over time. Making a decision does not mean that you’ve burned bridges to your past life or that you’ve erected a wall against more change in the future.

But it is a psychological truism that many people align their personal identity with their work, especially if they are high achievers, like most lawyers. Consequently, after departing from their law practice, some lawyers may feel unsure of who they are.

According to Robert P. Delamontagne’s website, www.theretiringmind.com, “[I]t is estimated that 50 percent of retirees will suffer some form of acute emotional distress. This is potentially a very large problem given the fact that 10,000 people are becoming eligible for Social Security every day for the next 20 years in the U.S. alone.”

This is an issue for which you must prepare yourself as you begin to assess whether, when and how you will be ready to leave your work behind.

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Edward Poll is the principal of LawBiz Management. He coaches lawyers and is the creator of “Life After Law,” a program that helps attorneys plan for profitable exits. He can be contacted at edpoll@lawbiz.com.

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