This is when you know it may be time to ‘hang it up’ as a lawyer

  1. One of the craziest things that can occur and did happen to me by my spouse (or it could be your significant other or partner). . .  In the early hours of the morning, and while still in bed. . . my wife learned over and asked “Hey Byron, honey, are you ready for your walk?”  The problem was that Byron is our dog and I was still in bed and not ready for my morning walk.  You definitely go down further notches on the importance scale toward the end of your career.  That may be a “sign”.
  2.  You know that your pace in the practice is slowing (and there may be fewer calls for your services, or at least your caseload is reduced so you can now have a “life”). When you finally have a chance after 30+ years to actually have all of your underwear and socks totally straightened in your chest of drawers and no longer on the floor or bed now that your unselfish, singular attention to your clients is now lessening.  (Can you believe that it really wasn’t until now that I had the time to match all my errant socks!)
  3.  You finally realize that your briefcase is much lighter than normal and you may be resorting to white letter-sized pads rather than the standard, bigger yellow legal-sized ones, not to mention lighter and smaller briefcases in hand that may not even fit a legal-sized file.
  4.  If you are bigger than a solo firm, you may recall those days when you received a number of prospective clients calling for you, and you only, for their legal matters.  But just know that many clients are starting to call for other attorneys in the firm (thinking you don’t have the energy they seek or you may not be as available as before), and thinking you have retired or are now often gone traveling, or you may have "passed" for that matter.
  5. Your thoughts may now be more on making or executing your “bucket list” of things to do before you kick the bucket, rather than on your cases.
  6. You may be thinking on cutting back on magazine subscriptions, or at least wondering whether you really want the three year subscription commitment and best value, or just the standard one year offering so you know you will be around to read it.
  7. You may be beginning to confront all the varied transition issues that confront you as you “wind down” your practice, such as which assistant do you use, consider working full time or part time, or not at all.  You may not even ever realize these before you are told that you need to “hang it up."
  8.  Are you pondering whether you are comfortable with all your cases safely and securely in the Cloud?  Are you worried about that?  Can you comprehend and square the risk of “lost” or “misplaced” files in the Cloud, or that could be seized by others?
  9.  Are you having thoughts of how you will now fill the time you formerly spent serving clients with all this extra time on your hands?  Is your primary focus now to enjoy life and to get away or escape from the practice?
  10. Have you formulated any strategies for coordinating your remaining client matters you expect not to now complete or not want to do in the future?
  11. Are you able to psychologically/emotionally meet the challenges of morphing into a “new” person other than a 100% focused, practicing attorney?
  12.  Have you now thought of that one place you might like to regularly visit (other than your main household) after knowing it is time to drastically slow or wind down your cases and clients?    
  13. You find now that you are doing more than ever before to watch your diet and maintain your health and this is your main focus of life (taking the time to grow your own food or herbs, or shop especially for the healthiest items, or even cooking your own food in a healthy manner, or taking up exercise classes or making more time for the gym, or utilizing fitness equipment at home, or increasing your times to walk)?
  14. Have you found with greater time on your hands that you are now devoting more time to your hobbies (music, reading, woodworking, cooking, painting, etc.) or devoting for the first time more of your labor and advice to charities?  The current baby boomers will likely be the greatest charitable givers of all time!
  15. Have you had thoughts of trying to avoid making that one last mistake (legal malpractice) as you begin to slow down your practice and “exit the game” and begin to slow down your practice?
  16. It just may be time when you now particularly notice bigger changes in your memory and patience.  Not remembering what you had for lunch yesterday is not likely significant.  But preparing for an oral legal argument, or making an extended final appearance in a court case, or remembering and reciting your former mastery of the law in your niche – now these are the potentially worrisome activities that may be cause for concern.  Losing your cool in the office and/or losing your patience with staff, co-attorneys and/or clients can be a signal it’s time to let go.  An infrequent, minor episode is not fatal, but recurrent ones certainly can be.
  17. Are you frequently thinking more on your upcoming social activities rather than committing your focus and efforts on your client matters?  This could be a sign that your time in the office is about up . . .  And particularly so, if you find that you are frequently “cutting corners” – not fully proofreading letters/documents, losing interest in seeing that all outgoing mail (snail, e-mail or otherwise) is fully double-checked and correct, not tracking all your file matters as closely as you used to, etc. And if you are on medication for any stabilization or health management reasons, for goodness sakes, please have it organized or have a “system” so you are darn sure you take them all timely.
  18. It is most definitely a good or great thing to look ahead to your next 10+ day vacation or getaway.  If you feel yourself away from the office extensively and/or for longer periods, that is okay too so long as your focus is still keen on the clients – cutting or copying articles in your practice areas and/or about legal issues the crux of your cases; not relying on fate or luck for your best client outcomes, but actually “dialing down” on all the facts and law to fully assure your success.
  19. You should likely sense a problem when you find yourself routinely cutting corners when it comes to fully developing all the facts of a case (not going to the scene or gathering all the facts in a case) and knowing and “dialing down” to retrieve all applicable law (both favorable and contra) in your matter.
  20. It is okay if when you are out of the office on a trip or extended vacation that you forget about all matters at the office (that is, so long as all your client matters are adequately covered without you).  But if you do call near daily when away and find yourself still “glued” to your “technology devices”, then you are probably not having the true break from the office you require. (I always like to ask younger lawyers “Do you have a vacation scheduled for at least 10 days, to commence in the next 12-16 months?”  More experienced practitioners should heed this advice as well.)
  21. There can also be the possibility and a sign of your pre-occupation with your work and chance that you are holding on too tightly to the office—that you feel constraints on shepherding the office in a smooth transition with the younger members. Hopefully this is not the case for gosh sakes.  You do need to have a keen interest in a hobby or the arts or a charitable outlet to fill your days.
  22. Some folks might think your time is up in the office if you have more than a simple passion or interest in recycling (i.e. paper, glass, plastic, foil, wax paper, jars, boxes, etc. or just plain hoarding.  Do you?  If you fixate on crooked pictures on the wall, wall clocks out of or off time and/or dreams of utopia and perfectionism, watch out.  You may still be okay.  But do be careful to appreciate and understand all your idiosyncrasies, placing them below your client loyalties.
  23. You might get the message when you are on a crowded bus with all seats filled and most everyone there wishing to give up their seat to you.  The signage on the bus reads to “give up your seat” to those with “disabilities or a senior”.  Self-evaluate whether you are one or both, or none of these.

So . . . remember to “enjoy” the practice, for as long as you are in it . . . And likewise, embrace your transition from the daily law practice to whatever your interests after the law.  Remember, life is short – so grab for all the “gusto” you can. . .

And don’t forget, as a lawyer, to consider leaving something charitably in your will to benefit one of the best legal-based charitable foundations in Illinois, the Illinois Bar Foundation, or to another Illinois legal charity of your choice.

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May 2019Volume 10Number 4PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)