Let’s say that a partner at a law firm has been there for quite a while and is getting older, a situation in which I once found myself.
And let’s say that the partner is done with working lots and lots of hours and wants out. Perhaps the partner has become tired or has had a health scare or no longer deals with stress as well as he or she or they once did or finally realizes that there is more to life, or whatever.
And then let’s say that the partner still has something that they could contribute to the law firm. Maybe they want to work part time. Maybe they could mentor lawyers. Maybe they could maintain relationships with clients. Maybe they could continue to network and bring in new clients. Maybe they could ghost write articles for publication under the name of lawyers who are still busy. The list goes on.
You see, people who have worked their whole adult lives as lawyers tend to have some skills and contacts. And many of them do not want to go from working full tilt to full stop. Take me, for example. I was completely and irrevocably done with the stress of practicing law. But being useless at building things or even fixing things around the house (I have a toolbox with only three tools: a phone, a cheque book, and a pen), I needed to keep just a little bit busy.
So, now I author articles which I publish on LinkedIn and on my website (www.lawanddisorderinc.com), I teach a few courses and I mentor some young lawyers. I like to tell people that I want to work no more than 3 hours a day. And not every day. Or on consecutive days. Or on days when it is warm outside. Or on days when I would prefer to be travelling. You get the picture. Never in a million billion years do I want to practice law again, but I do like to be just a little bit busy.
Well, back to my point. There are many lawyers like me, who have retired or are about to retire. And many of us still know quite a bit of stuff and lots of people. And we want to keep busy. And maybe we want to earn a bit of money, but we are no longer looking to maximize our income. In other words, we will work cheap.
And yet, with some exceptions, I do not see law firms looking to capitalize on this valuable resource. So, if I could create the perfect law firm, here is how retirement from that firm would look:
- There would be a culture which accepted that in the later years of a lawyer’s practice, they are going to reduce their billable hours, take more time off and generally work at a level that perhaps would have been unacceptable in earlier years.
- The firm and the partner would work together to identify the ways in which the retiring partner could assist the firm after retirement. Perhaps the firm would like someone knowledgeable to be on call to help close a big deal. Perhaps the retiring partner could help the junior lawyers learn how to look at a file and see the big picture. Another retiree might be able to help the juniors develop their presentation or advocacy skills. Surely most of the retiring partners have some skills that the firm will continue to need. (If not, what the hell were they doing at the firm in the first place?) And, surely at least some of the retiring partners would enjoy using those skills and keeping busy after retirement.
- In my ideal firm, every single aspect of a lawyer’s retirement from their firm would be managed with mutual respect. On the day of the lawyer’s retirement, here are some of the things which would not happen without a full discussion and hopefully consensus about how things would be handled: The retiring partner’s access pass and web access would not be immediately cancelled and parking permit revoked; the firm would not delete the retiring partner’s email history, contacts and other data from the retiring partner’s laptop; the retiring partner’s name would not disappear from the website; and generally speaking it would take more than a week for the retiring partner’s association with his or her long-time firm to disappear from the firm’s consciousness. Then there would be some things which should happen. Perhaps a thoughtful discussion and consensus about whether the retiring partner might continue to have access to firm precedents or certain other resources. Maybe they could stay on the phone plan.
- The partners in my ideal firm would reach out to the retiring partner from time to time, both formally and informally. The retiring partner would be invited to events, and more than lip service would be paid to the idea that “you will always be part of the [insert firm name here] family.”
- In this ideal culture where long-time service and loyalty to the firm engenders respect and appreciation in the younger partner group, retiring partners would also feel loyalty to the firm which was their home for many years. They would want to do all sorts of things for the firm, both big and small. I have mentioned a few of these things earlier in this article and although we old folks like to repeat ourselves, I won’t do that right now. Instead, I would mention the following additional things that the departing partner might want to do:
- actively encourage all of their clients to stay with the firm;
- provide insight to the firm on clients who might not have appeared on the client list for a year or two (and will thus likely be under the radar for the firm) but who can always be counted on to come back in a few years with a major file if communication is maintained;
- provide insight to the firm on what it will take to hold onto specific clients; and
- generally do whatever they can to help the firm continue to succeed because they feel good about the firm.
In my ideal firm, retiring partners would feel so good about how their retirement was overseen that they would even do the little stuff, such as vote and encourage others to vote for the firm in all of those silly “award” programs.
Sports teams have superfans. After spending many years at my ideal firm, retiring partners would be superfans. They would talk the firm up, give references for the firm to potential clients and associates and refer every possible client that comes anywhere near them to the firm. They would do all of this just because they feel good about how their retirement was handled. And by the way, I still get people who I met many years back searching me out just to ask me to refer them to someone who I would recommend for everything from family law to estates law to mergers and acquisitions.
And of course, no partner who retired from my ideal firm would be a super critic instead of a superfan.
So, my question for all of the partners of law firms who are not in my ideal firm, is whether or not it makes sense to look at how you are handling retirement issues and whether you can do better?