What Age is Right for You?

Kathy Fortin

July 14, 2017

Most adults in America would agree that the typical age to retire is 65.  Having been involved in a legal career for several decades, I have always had the impression that the lawyers I knew intended to work forever.  They never thought of retiring.  “I’ll die at my desk,” is something I have heard more than once and even known it to happen. 

For the past fifteen years, as a consultant working with lawyers on succession planning, I have heard lawyers discuss their thoughts about retirement and they are indeed different than my earlier impression.  Many a lawyer I meet with now will start by saying things like:

 “Well, I turn 60 next year.”

 “My wife is retired and she’s after me to join her.”

“I never thought I’d say it, but I now look forward to slowing down.”

The lawyers I am referring to are senior lawyers, the founders of small law firms, or solo practitioners.  Short of having a plan, the option they describe is, “Turning off the lights, when I am ready to quit.”  This is not an option Arthur Greene or I recommend.  Instead, there are many other choices: taking on a younger lawyer (or more) to succeed you, exploring other law firms or lawyers for merger, or an “Of Counsel” arrangement, with the right firm.  The final decisions come after working through your personal and professional goals.

It is important to start early to plan for retirement. Arthur Greene and I work with lawyers in their 70s who have decided they want to have a plan in place, while they continue to work for a few more years.  It is not the age that drives the process, but giving yourself plenty of time. Starting at least a couple of years before you want to wind down is critical.  Because internal succession is often the best option, you might need time to get your firm’s house in the best order.  And, if your spouse is urging you to take steps to make a plan, it might be a good time to listen and act.