This topic has come up a number of times this year. Some of my clients have left the practice. Deans of students for local law schools have retired. Some of my family members have moved to Florida, to escape the New England winters.
I know that closing the door on your practice life is a significant decision — one that is not to be taken lightly. Lawyers often have only one career path; and, the idea of walking away from it is unsettling, at best.
Retirement means different things to different people, based on their work experience and the meaning that they have attached to it. Witnessing your own family members transitioning into retirement: what they said about it, how they felt about it — that all has a significant effect on your conception of what your own retirement will be, or should be.
We live in a culture where work can dominate life, and where what we do influences the role we play in society. Our work impacts our self-esteem; it’s a way for us to measure our worth, and to establish our self-importance. For some people, their work and their job title provide a valuable organizing principle that gives their life purpose and meaning. For many lawyers, leaving behind that organizing principle is shocking, and frightening; for others, it represents relief, from an untold number of (often unspoken) burdens.
Lawyers who have been able to successfully negotiate the movement into retirement have made the decision to leave within their own time frame: they have taken control over change. They took time to work through their initial ambivalence, were willing to let things go, and had something that they were moving toward: new goals. Being able to be self-directed in making retirement decisions, and locating the support of family, friends and colleagues, is important, as you wrestle with the big idea of transitioning out of practice. Embracing a new life, a major transition — it all takes some getting used to; and, you must be willing to trust the process of change and everything that it brings with it. It is important to accept that the process of change comes in stages — and, that each stage requires its own peculiar adjustments. Each phase of the transition becomes easier, of course, when you embrace it, welcome it, and give your energy over to it. The pain of transition comes with resistance to it, and the problem is exacerbated when you deny the magnitude of the impact of your decision. Resistance stems from fear of the unknown. Lawyers perceive this step into the unknown as a loss of control — and lawyers must always be in control. But, once resistance has given way to acceptance, the change to retirement can result in a positive outcome.
The staff at Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers understands how difficult and overwhelming a transition to retirement can be, at whichever stage of the decision calculus you sit; and, we would welcome your calls and visits. We can help you to achieve a favorable result.
Our Law Office Management Assistance Program, in concert with LCL, can offer strategic ideas for winding down your existing practice, or practice life. Setting aside some time to meet with LOMAP and LCL is a smart and effective means of dealing with this complicated next step and new chapter in your life. Give us a call!
Barbara J Bowe, LICSW