It has been 8 years since I started focusing on retirement and what it means for lawyers and their firms. I’d like to share with you some observations about the changes I’ve seen and the initiatives firms are undertaking in response to those changes.
When I began, few lawyers or firms realized the importance of preparing for retirement or had any idea how to do it. They figured that the only necessary advance planning was financial. Fortunately, that attitude is changing. There have been significant shifts regarding retirement thinking among both individual lawyers and law firms.
One shift I see is a growing awareness, openness and desire for help. As people now remain healthy and active far longer than ever before, their post-career lives can last decades. And though many older partners want to practice as long as they can, younger lawyers do not want or expect to spend most of their longer-than-ever lives in law practice.
Lawyers’ understanding of retirement is also changing. Rather than fearing it as an “ending” or descent into oblivion (or alternatively, as one long carefree holiday), they are starting to recognize that retiring is the beginning of a new stage of life. Even senior lawyers who are ready to slow down or step away from what they are doing, do not intend to spend the next few decades purely in travel and leisure. They want to stay actively engaged with the world because they still have a great deal to learn, do, and contribute. They are seeking support and guidance to define, plan, and move into their “next acts.”
My 2020 book, Retirement by Design, provides that support and guidance. It has been lauded as one of the best books on retirement by several sources, including the Wall Street Journal and the Stanford Center on Longevity, and remains a best seller today. In fact, many coaches, workshop leaders, financial planners, and others in the field of retirement planning use the book with their clients, and many law firms give copies to all their senior partners.
Another shift I’ve seen is that law firms now realize that effective retirement management is good for business. Typically, firms become aware of the need to manage partner retirements when something dramatic happens. For example, they lose clients because a retired partner failed to provide a successor; they lose junior partners who feel stymied by senior partners who won’t let go; or they become aware that partners over 60 represent a large percentage of the partnership (sometimes more than half) and control an enormous amount of the firm’s revenues. When senior partners won’t groom successors, hand over client relationships, or even talk about retirement, having partners retire without plans and successors in place puts the firm at risk.
Systematic advance retirement planning can minimize the risk. Partners are more likely to discuss and plan for retirement when (1) it is a routine and embedded part of firm culture to discuss retirement and follow succession and transition processes, and (2) those processes are deemed fair, consistent, and transparent. When that happens, it
• Leads to smoother, more amicable retirements,
• Increases client retention and profitability when partners retire,
• Facilitates younger partners’ accession to client and firm leadership – which helps retain those partners,
• Keeps the retiring partners’ referral sources and community and business contacts in the firm,
• Encourages retired partners to serve as useful resources and ambassadors for the firm, and
• Enables the firm to plan better for the future and maintain financial and institutional stability.
Accordingly, law firms are establishing systems and processes that lead to these positive outcomes. Some firms offer retirement coaching, present retirement-focused workshops, and support affinity groups, peer group mentoring, and intranet-based retirement resources for senior partners. Others have more extensive efforts that include regular planning conversations with senior partners and guidelines that describe expectations and steps to be followed during a designated transition period.
Having encouraged its development, I find this growing activity in law firm retirement planning exciting and gratifying. As I review what I’ve done this year, I take pleasure and pride in being able to serve so many individuals who want to make their post-career lives as meaningful and joyful as possible, and so many law firms who are committed to the career development of all their lawyers, even those whose long and successful careers are winding down.
My coaching clients this year have included lawyers, executives and professionals in numerous fields, and their ages have ranged from 49 to 75. The retirements they are designing are as diverse as they are, and include starting new businesses, studying and making art, volunteering, joining boards, caring for grandchildren, traveling, surfing, working pro bono, and continuing to practice in different capacities than before.
Some of the ways I have helped law firms this year to create, improve or completely revamp partner retirement processes include:
• Promoting constructive conversations with partners about retirement by developing procedures and templates, drafting talking points, and assisting firm leaders.
• Advising law firm leaders on issues to consider in dealing with senior and retiring partners, and on managing particularly challenging partners.
• Furthering the goal of increasing client retention through investing in client relationships (e.g., by weaving junior lawyers into those relationships) as part of retirement and succession planning.
• Conducting interviews and focus groups with retired partners to assess existing retirement processes and suggest improvements.
• Presenting programs for law firm partners (and often, staff) about preparing and transitioning into retirement, and designing their post-career lives.
• Showing leaders of law firm alumni programs how to support and use retired partners.
• Helping design a retirement-focused program to be integrated into an established career development program.
• Presenting retirement programs as part of bar association programs and law firm wellness initiatives, focused on alleviating the negativity and stress of retirement.
In addition to my client work, I have developed new resources about retirement. I was especially excited this year to release a series of 24 videos called “Got a Second?” for lawyers and law firms. These brief videos address common retirement issues and challenges, and suggest how to overcome them. The videos have been posted weekly on LinkedIn and all of them can be viewed on YouTube.
I have also done some writing and speaking to a variety of audiences throughout the year. My articles and many of my webinars, podcasts, speaking engagements, and other public presentations can be found on my website. And my e-course, “Retirement by Design,” remains available for those who prefer an e-learning format. I am pleased to offer a deep discount for both individual courses and packages to my clients and newsletter subscribers. Simply enter “RBD50” when you check out to receive a 50% discount.
Through these varied resources and formats, I have been able to inform a larger segment of the legal community about why and how to design smooth retirement transitions and ideal post-career futures. Given the growing need and interest in the legal community, there’s every reason to be optimistic about what the new year will bring!
If you or your firm would like to discuss how I might be able to help you address retirement, please get in in touch.
And if you have any friends, family members, or colleagues who are or might be retiring soon (or whom you want to encourage to start thinking about it), Retirement by Design makes an excellent holiday, birthday or retirement gift!