Retirement for Young and Old Lawyers: Part Three

In Part One, I told you to figure out what you want your retirement to look like. In Part Two I advised you to get to know yourself.

This time, a cautionary note. You need to figure out if you really want to retire or whether you are just burned out.

Dr. Google defines burnout as “a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Burnout in the course of employment can make one feel emotionally drained and unable to function in the context of work and other aspects of life.”

If you are a high performer  in the legal profession, you may recognize this definition since it is very similar to the definition of “Friday Evening.”

In my case, my career was a series of Friday Evenings which I was usually able to patch up by Monday morning, punctuated by the occasional dark time every few years. 

Burnout can be addressed. Get some psychological help. Learn to say no and set boundaries at work. Change your type of practice. Take more breaks. Get into shape. Eat better. Cut back on your hours. Move your practice to a firm with a better culture. Fire your  worst clients. Kick your really annoying partners out of the firm or let them kick you out. Decide that you will be just fine if you earn less money. Basically, look at what is wrong with your life and get yourself a better one.  If it is fixable, you are burned out.

Retirement, on the other hand, is a whole different kettle of fish.  You will know that you are overdue for retirement if you cannot imagine that any changes to your professional or personal life will result in you wanting to go to the office and put up with your partners or clients for even one more day.

In my case, I woke up one day after 40 years of living and breathing the law, my firm, and my clients, and thought, “I just want out.” No amount of changing how I practiced law was going to take away the feeling that it was time to go.

If you are having some trouble deciding whether it is time to retire or you are  just burned out, here are some questions to ponder:

1.            Would you want to keep practicing if you could reduce the time commitment and stress?

2.            Would you want to keep practicing if your practice could be modified/scaled down?

3.            Would you want to keep working if you were doing something else or doing what you do somewhere else?

If you are burned-out, do something about it. But don’t retire.

You will know that it is time to go if you are relaxed, content, and happy, and still want out. More importantly, you will know that it is time to happily retire if you have done some planning and are excited about getting on with the next stage of our life.

More brilliant ideas about retirement to come next time.

This article was originally published by Law360 Canada, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.

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