Career Slow-Down in Middle Age

Age 55 doesn’t seem so old now that I’ve reached it. But somehow my career seems to have left me behind. My post-law school career in solo practice was quite successful. I was a conscientious and effective attorney and business came in faster than I needed it. But in the last few years my referral sources have dwindled and work has slowed to perhaps one fourth of what it was. My wife has become the primary earner, and I feel lost and stripped of my professional identity. I’m told that I should get out there and market myself, but I just can’t seem to do it. Any suggestions?

At LCL, we have seen a stream of middle-aged lawyers in your position. As is well recognized, law and other professions have more clearly become businesses, and the business landscape has changed dramatically. For example, large firms have acquired some of the work formerly done by individual practitioners. Some traditional referral sources have dried up. Some areas of the law have changed so as to leave less work for specialized lawyers. Competent work is no longer enough– marketing has become much more crucial. Attorneys with no interest in selling their services can have difficulty adapting.

LCL has no ready answers to this dilemma. Since, understandably, many in your position become depressed, we often make referrals for appropriate treatment. LCL has helped a number of attorneys explore possible options through referrals to career coaches/counselors and useful readings. In some cases, we have discussed potential benefits to measures such as forming professional alliances, seeking salaried positions, making contact with former clients/rotary clubs/businesses with potential clients, or emphasizing a particular niche of the law. It may be a time to consider alternative careers that utilize a lawyer’s skills, and to identify personal connections that might open doors. Avoiding the office and sleeping late is not productive. It is important to grieve what has been lost, accept current realities, and move forward by developing a (revisable) action plan and keep plugging away.

None of this is easy, and we are often struck by how attorneys go through the ordeal in isolation. At times, we may have an appropriate, time-limited support group at LCL — feel free to check by calling or emailing us.

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