We are all familiar with the pomp and circumstance that goes with being admitted to the bar. Speeches, formal ceremonies, dressing up, talk of hope and optimism. Are you familiar with the retirement ceremonies for Illinois attorneys? Probably not, as there are none—at least not to my knowledge. Young attorneys enter the profession with a bang, but experienced attorneys depart with a whimper. Let’s change that.
I have seen, in my legal and psychotherapy practices, young and older attorneys dealing with the stress and anxiety that comes with leaving the profession of law. Some are forced to leave after disciplinary matters. Others can no longer competently practice law, whether due to a physical, medical or mental impediment. Other attorneys simply realize it’s time to retire, and choose to leave the practice of law.
Whatever the reason for leaving, why not acknowledge the hard work and sacrifices made by retiring attorneys? Why don’t we acknowledge their contributions to the Bar, their colleagues and their clients? Don’t we, who are still practicing, owe something to each and every lawyer who came before us? I think so.
Here’s my proposal. Create an Illinois Supreme Court-sanctioned ceremony for retiring attorneys. The attorney, either on his or her own or through another lawyer, moves the applicable court (state or federal) for leave to tender their law license. The court then sets aside time to hear the motion. Friends and family, peers and colleagues, are given notice, and the motion is heard. The court thanks the attorney for his or her service and tenders a certificate signed by an Illinois Supreme Court Member as well as by the judge hearing the motion. The certificate can be framed and displayed in the home office or elsewhere, also making a nice keepsake for family members. Perhaps a final order is entered indicating the attorney is taken off the rolls of active attorneys. A copy of the order could be provided to the ARDC and Supreme Court, which would assist in bookkeeping and record keeping. And, as you might expect, at the hearing of the motion, attorneys and judges would be given an opportunity to speak about their colleague, praising or roasting where appropriate. This would certainly lighten the seriousness or finality of the moment, and give those who wish an opportunity to recognize the retiring attorney.
The bottom line and intent of such a ceremony would be to grant closure to the attorney who might otherwise ... go gentle into that good night …. Our attorneys deserve more than a disappearing act. They deserve a formal last hurrah and send-off loaded with all (or at least some) of the pomp and circumstance that exists for those coming into the profession.
I really see this as a wonderful opportunity to acknowledge those legal warriors who have fought, struggled and sacrificed over the years. I imagine some ceremonies would be small, intimate gatherings. I know some would be grand parades. Courts hearing such motions would be advised to adjust their calendars accordingly. As a lawyer, I personally would like to have this option. Some lawyers would avoid the spotlight, whereas others would seek it. And that’s just fine – it would be their choice. As a psychotherapist, I know that such a ritual would aid retiring attorneys as they recreate themselves and find their new identity. This ceremony would be “therapeutically beneficial,” as is said in the psychological world.
So let’s make it happen. We need Supreme Court support, a rule and procedure drafted, and implementation. A little hard work on the front end will pay great dividends over time. In addition, after a brief search, I am not aware of any other state that provides a court-sanctioned ceremony for attorneys to tender their license and be honored for their service. Illinois has an opportunity to take the lead once again and set a model and standard for other states to follow. And, most importantly, we owe it to Illinois’ attorneys who are our friends, colleagues and fellow members of the Bar. ■