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Senior LawyersThe newsletter of the ISBA’s Section on Senior Lawyers

February 2012, vol. 3, no. 2

Lawyers and retirement/Oil and water

It is difficult to retire for most people, but it is even more so for lawyers. Most lawyers never think about retirement, because they are too busy to give it much consideration. Attorneys in large firms may be the exception, since they have formal pension plans and maybe mandatory retirement age requirements and they start receiving memos from H.R. at about age 59.

Let us look at why it is that lawyers find it difficult to retire. First, we have a grueling work schedule coupled with a terrific work ethic. Almost all attorneys work too hard and a fair number become workaholics. Our work defines us for the most part, and it is intense and demanding. Our clients are constantly waiting for the finished product that will satisfy their needs; deadlines and court calls never cease. This goes on for 30 or 40 years and then your spouse expects you to just stop and walk away—RETIRE. The emotional bridge from frenetic activity to a state of solitude is not easily crossed. Last year, you were a very important person to numerous people (clients, associates, and the like). This year, when you are retired, you are no longer so important; your prior way of life is over. For many, retirement is like being thrown off a speeding train. Now you are sitting in the dust with your bags askew watching the train (your career) slowly disappear over the horizon.

The second reason retirement is hard comes down to one word MONEY. If you want to maintain your lifestyle, you need in excess of $1 million in your 401-K. Let us presume $100,000 per year meets your economic needs in retirement and that you are receiving $24,000 per year from Social Security, so your 401K will have to kick out $76,000 per year. Let us also presume that your 401K is earning a 5 percent return and that inflation is at 4 percent. Your retirement assets will be exhausted in 15 years. So what do you do then? Move in with your kids, get a reverse mortgage, buy a trailer?

One can readily see why the topics of retirement are often pushed to the side for most lawyers. ■


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