Four key questions for retirement plan

 Edward Poll, The Daily Record Newswire

As I was writing my new book “Life After Law: What Will You Do with the Next 6,000 Days?" it struck me that, so far as many lawyers are concerned, “retirement” is the most feared word in the English language. As one law firm partner explained it to me, retiring meant going from “who’s who” to “who’s he?”

For many lawyers, their career is a large part of their identity. But once you stop practicing law, you’re no longer a lawyer, so what are you?

Actually, you can still be a “who’s who” in retirement. This does not mean that the world still knows who you are but rather that you can get a sense of who you are. Whether it’s being on a non-profit board, working in the garden, or pursuing a hobby, retirement opens a host of new options. Where do you want to go and what do you want to do? If we don’t know the answers to these questions, we’re going to be afraid to make the change from where we are.

Making a retirement plan is difficult, because the emphasis is on personal satisfaction, self-worth and well-being. All successful people are focused and passionate about what they do. If they want to pursue different interests, it is not that they wish to have a life of leisure — it reflects a greater desire to pursue another passion.

When developing a retirement plan, decide what you want to do with your life once you leave practice — quit working completely, do community service, start a new career, or some other path. Leaving your current practice by retiring is an emotional process, and a successful transition will require all the traits that defined your success as a lawyer: motivation, acceptance of risk, resiliency and commitment. Each person’s approach will be unique, and can change over time, so don’t feel you’ve burned bridges to your past life.

When coaching lawyers who want to leave practice, I typically start with several questions that set the stage for all further deliberations. These questions resonate with each person differently:

• Why do you want to leave your practice?

• What do you want to do with your life once you leave practice?

• Do you want to quit working and retire, or start a new adventure?

• Can you achieve the same objective without leaving the practice of law?

Trying to decide your future all at once often produces self-defeating fear and paralysis. A thousand-mile journey is nothing more than a series of steps; take them one at a time. Assess the reality of your financial resources and your physical health. Consider your estate plan, create trusts to conserve assets and minimize tax impact, and properly value the practice for estate tax purposes. Assess your current situation before trying to do anything else.

Assuming you’ve made all the appropriate plans and preparations, from lining up a successor to crafting an effective estate plan, only you can decide how to make your transition. Will you seize the opportunity to begin anew, or be warehoused and wait to die? With life expectancies being extended as they are today, and likely to increase, there will be a great deal of time left to occupy yourself with other activities. What will they be? The answers are certainly different for every individual; but you won’t begin to learn them until you ask yourself the right questions.


Edward Poll, J.D., M.B.A., CMC, is a law practice management thought leader and contributor to this publication. His website is at


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