Taking The Fear Out of The ‘R’ Word

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Dear Lawyers, It’s Time to Take The Fear Out of The ‘R’ Word. There are so many reasons that some attorneys approaching retirement decide to postpone any decision. Instead, focus on their clients, internal responsibilities, and other relationships. The most common sense most attorneys seem to be a lack of clarity about what the future will hold after owning your law practice

The goal of retirement is not to stop but to enjoy life after law. Let’s take a closer look at some common fears of retirement. And look at a strategy you can employ to get over these mental hurdles to retirement.

First, let’s be honest about four fears that most attorneys face as they consider their transition. The scary ideas that run through many potential retirees’ heads include:

If I don’t work, I’ll have no choice but to become a “mall walker.” Really? You get to choose what you do after leaving your law firm (and as you scale down before your final departure date). You don’t have to walk the mall, join a retirement community, or do any other thing you fear you might not like (recognizing that these activities would make some quite happy). That may involve still practicing as of Counsel for quite some time, mentoring young lawyers, sailing the Caribbean, traveling across the country, or all of the above. You made a plan for your law practice and made it happen, so now it is time to do the same for the next stage in life. 

If I don’t practice law anymore, I don’t know how to introduce myself to others. It’s true that at some point, you may not be a current member of your firm, but you can remain a member of your state bar and stay involved in the profession in so many ways. 

If I don’t work, I will lose my mind. It’s possible that if you don’t use it, your sharpness may decline. However, there are many great ways to keep your mind engaged outside of employment. Set new goals which you have to learn and plan to achieve.

That plan to sail the Caribbean won’t happen without going to sailing school to learn all those knots, navigation, and preparation you need for that adventure. 

I need the money. To get an idea of what you’ll need in retirement, you need to have a good conversation with a financial planner. Depending on how many years you have until retirement, this can give you an idea of what you should contribute to your nest egg and what your expenses will need to live comfortably.

One possibility might be continuing to work as an of Counsel for some time, doing other consulting in the legal world so you can maintain a steady revenue stream. However, it will likely be smaller than the one you earned when you were at your firm.

So, how do you counter these fears about retirement? The best option is to prepare a list of the possibilities for your retirement. Take the following steps to put this list together.

Open a document or take out a piece of paper. Consider this your first moment of brainstorming for retirement, so it doesn’t have to be perfect. You will update it many times over several years. Perhaps, so you want it to be fluid, accessible, and not easily lost or misplaced.

Begin a list of all of the things you might do after retirement. You do not have to be sure you will tackle an item before placing it on your list. It may be a travel destination, a consulting company idea, teaching a class, mentoring an attorney, giving back somehow,  etc.  

Add to your list. Update the list over time. As it gets longer and more filled in, consider reorganizing it and structuring your possibilities by the nature of the activity. 

Share with others. Start telling everyone about your target goals and possibilities. Not only will this provide you with feedback on your list, but it also can encourage you and make the commitment even more real once you have told someone else.  

Try them out. Before you fully retire, start trying some of those hot items on your list. Take some extra time and try a shorter version of that big trip or start taking some classes for your planning activity. 

Keep it up and keep adding. Once you complete something, add another item and keep the cycle going. If you want something with even more challenge, go ahead and shoot for the stars. You are an attorney; you will figure out how to make it happen. 

Look forward, not backward. As your plans start to move you towards retirement, don’t approach with fear of the unknown. Instead, get ready and make a plan to achieve all those things you dreamed about and start your list and action items to make your next stage in life even more fulfilling than the previous.