Notice my new look? I’ve updated my website and newsletter design to reflect that my practice now focuses primarily on retirement strategies for individuals and law firms. This work is a natural continuation of my professional development consulting, as many of my long-term and new clients are at the far end of their career and leadership development journey. Following long, successful careers, many of my individual clients see retirement on the horizon, and law firm clients want to help partners manage their retirement transitions in a smooth, mutually beneficial way.
Refreshing our look also reinforces the need to update attitudes and mindsets about what retirement means today, as people live and stay healthy and productive far longer than ever before. Retirement is no longer viewed as an ending, or a withdrawal from practice because you’re old and no longer valued. Instead, professionals in their 50s, 60s, 70s and older, are leaving full-time practice and using their freedom to pursue new adventures, work in new capacities, contribute in new ways, and learn, grow and enjoy the life they have worked so hard to build.
If you’re starting to contemplate what you might do in the future, then I suggest you start to design your retirement strategy while you’re still competitive and your practice is still thriving. You might not feel fully ready to retire, but waiting too long might put you at a disadvantage. Read below to learn five tips to help you approach retirement from a position of strength.
I was recently interviewed by Craig Williams on his Lawyer2Lawyer podcast. It was the concluding episode in a series that looked at a lawyer’s career from start to finish. We covered a broad range of retirement topics, from deciding when to retire to what to do after you retire. You can listen to our conversation here.
The resources I’ve developed to help people design and transition into happy and meaningful retirements include a bestselling book, Retirement by Design, and a companion video course of the same name. The book is a great holiday gift for anyone who plans to retire or who has retired but wants to make retired life better. Many people give it to family members they think should be planning to retire. The book is inexpensive and if you want to give it to a lot of friends, relatives or colleagues, a bulk pricing discount is available (minimum 24 books). Contact me for details.
I also have a special offer for those interested in my e-course. I will include an hour of personal retirement coaching for individuals who buy the course from now until January 30, 2023.
As you consider your plans and budgets for 2023, please get in touch with me if you need help designing your own retirement or improving your firm’s succession and retirement processes.
Retiring at the top of your game: 5 tips for ending strong
At some time in your life, you will get an itch to explore or grow in new directions. After a long, successful career, you may still love your work but are starting to love it less. You are happy to be extremely busy, but also tired and feel like slowing down, or wish you had time to try something different. Your practice is doing well but the market for legal services is fickle, so you don’t know how long that will continue. You’re making good money and it’s hard to give that up, but earning more is no longer as satisfying as it once was. You can’t imagine not staying in the game, but wonder when the time will come to move on.
If your career is going well but you’re starting to think about what might come next, here’s a thought: It’s better to go out while you’re on top. Some clients have told me they waited too long. They wish they had retired from practice before their productivity started to dip, before they began to feel ignored, undervalued or irrelevant, or in the worst cases, before the firm suggested it was time to go.
It’s far better to leave when you’re still riding high, when your practice and status are strong, and when you can set the time and terms of your departure. This approach lets you exit and move on with your autonomy, legacy and dignity intact. If that sounds good to you, here are five tips for going out on top.
- Have an exit plan.
Review your partnership or employment agreement and any other pertinent documents that might affect your situation, including your contractual obligations to the firm, restrictions if you want to continue to practice elsewhere, and benefits packages that may be affected by your age at retirement.
Carefully consider when and how you’ll want to retire. Some points to decide include how much longer and how hard you’ll want to work, the support and resources you’ll want from the firm during and after your transition, what you’ll do to facilitate leadership and client succession, and how your compensation will be determined during the transition period, and if appropriate, afterward.
You’ll probably need to negotiate specific terms, so remember: your bargaining position will be strongest when you are in demand and your practice is thriving. That’s another reason to move before your career starts to wane. And don’t be afraid to be creative in your proposal. It doesn’t matter if you are the first to propose such a plan, so long as the plan makes sense and you can show how it benefits the firm’s interests as well as yours.
- Give yourself enough time.
A carefully drawn exit plan will take a lot of time to design and then to execute. The sooner you start to think about it, the more time you’ll have to create a good plan and carry it out.
In addition, you’ll have to prepare yourself emotionally for what will be a major life transition. If you are married, you’ll also need to discuss your ideas with your spouse so that you can both prepare for the changes ahead. If both of you are working, you may need to resolve differences about whether and when one or both of you will retire, and to negotiate new routines, responsibilities and logistics at home.
You’ll also need adequate time to prepare clients, colleagues, and people at work who support and depend on you. You may be reluctant to announce your retirement too far in advance, but they will appreciate being told early enough to figure out how your plans will affect them and make their own plans for after you leave.
Clients in particular need to know how their interests will be protected after you retire. They will expect you to give them ample notice of your plans and enough time to develop a relationship with the lawyer you propose to take over their representation so that they can decide whether to accept your person or seek an alternative.
- Plant the seeds for your next stage.
It’s important to stay engaged, active and intellectually stimulated when you retire, so it’s helpful to sow the seeds for your retirement plans while you’re still working. Maybe you’ll start your retirement with a long stretch of rest and relaxation. But at some point, you’ll likely feel bored, adrift, or guilty for being so lazy. Choosing some pursuits in advance will help you move into a more active retired life smoothly and quickly.
To help you decide what you might do, begin early, during your transition or even before. What sounds interesting to you? The possibilities are limitless: you could do pro bono legal work, volunteer for a non-profit, run for office, take classes or teach them, travel or live abroad, seek an encore career in a new field, or do pretty much anything else you want! Look for opportunities to observe, experience or try out activities that sound good, even briefly, to determine whether you’ll want to pursue them further. Investigate options and connect with people in relevant organizations, programs and fields. Set yourself up so that it will be easy for you to start your desired activities when you are ready for them in the future.
- Be grateful for what you’ve accomplished.
Think of all you’ve accomplished during your career. Look at the difference you’ve made in the world. The many cases and deals you’ve handled, the many clients you’ve served, the young people you’ve influenced, and the impact you’ve had on our legal system, your firm, the profession. You have done much to be proud of and this is the legacy you will leave behind. But more important than pride, be grateful that you have had the ability and opportunity to do what you have done, that you have been in a position to make such a difference, and that you have the intelligence and power to continue having an impact even after you retire.
- Be excited for what’s ahead.
You might be leaving your job but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re done. Is there more that you want to accomplish? Are there places you want to go, things you want to do? How can you apply your wisdom and experience to continue being of service and making a difference? Are there values, interests and priorities you haven’t had enough time for in the past?
When you retire, you’ll finally have the time to do what you want and the chance to spread your wings in new directions. Entering this next stage of life with a sense of wonder, excitement and curiosity will open you to new possibilities. And knowing that you’re in control from the outset will make the journey more meaningful and enjoyable.
Retiring while you’re busy, sought-after and profitable may sound to you like giving up too soon, before your work is finished. But look at it another way. You’re ending strong and leaving on your own terms. In the future, you might not have the choices, vitality or ability to do that. After her final tennis match, Serena Williams explained that she was retiring but not stopping: “Maybe the best word to describe what I’m up to is evolution… I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me.” Like Serena, retiring when you’re still competitive lets you evolve toward other important interests, and rather than showing weakness, lets you go from strength to strength.