Many of Jackson's legal elders plan to stay on job

Some would rather work than retire

When Michael Baughman started as an attorney in 1957, G. Mennen Williams was the governor of Michigan and the Detroit Lions were the champions of the NFL.

Today, Baughman is 84, still practices law about 20 hours a week and is part of the group of elder statesmen of the Jackson law scene.

"I can't think of anything else to do," Baughman said. "I enjoy it. I enjoy being at the court house and seeing people. I've never really thought about retiring. As long as I'm healthy and feel good and enjoy what I'm doing, I'll keep on doing it."

The aging workforce in the field of law became a hot topic a year ago. That's when Cooley Law School President and Dean Don LeDuc sparked a debate when he wrote in February of 2012 that law schools won't be able to produce enough lawyers to replace those leaving, either through retirement, death or other employment.

According to the State Bar of Michigan's 2012 demographics survey, 41 percent of the 33,737 members who responded to their survey were between the ages of 53 and 69. But many of Jackson's legal boomers say they aren't willing to give it up yet ... or ever.

"What am I going to do?" asked longtime Jackson Attorney Ron Fabian. "Go home and dust my record collection? Why not work? There will be no rush to retirement (by older attorneys)."

Some attorneys said they will scale back, but still work.

Jackson attorney Bill Thompson, 70, said he plans to reduce his workload next year but won't retire.

"I will try to do less, but I'm not going to retire," Thompson said.

He said many older people are victims of the recession and slumping real estate values that have made them put off retirement.

"If I stop working, what am I going to do?" Thompson asked. "I don't want to get up every day and have nothing to do except being home. That's not appealing to me. I don't think it is unusual for a person who is older to strike that delicate balance of doing less but keeping your hand in it."

Some attorneys in town said they will retire and enjoy other aspects of their life while they still can.

Jackson Attorney Bob Matyjaszek said he does plan to retire in June 2014.

Matyjaszek, 63, has been in practice 37 years. He said he'll be moving to Scottsdale, Arizona where he has bought a home.

"I figured 38 or 39 years was long enough," he said. "This was the only opportunity we get in life and I wanted to enjoy my retirement while I was healthy and able to enjoy it."

But Matyjaszek said he doesn't see retirements translating to opportunities for younger lawyers. "It's a difficult time for a young attorney to get a practice going," he said. "Just because a few elder attorneys are retiring doesn't mean that it will open up significant opportunities for the younger people."

Jackson Attorney Bob Best, 68, has been practicing law since 1971. He doesn't plan to retire. "I love my work," he said. "I feel like I am good at it. I can make a contribution to my clients."

He said when he and his wife take a Florida vacation, she stays for three months. He stays for a week.

"By the time that week is over, I'm bored and anxious to get back to work," he said.

Best said he puts in 50 hours a week and still works one and often two weekend days.

Dennis Whedon, 70, has been retired for 12 years. He lives in Jackson but also travels to Colorado to spend time with his grandchildren. Whedon said he still maintains his license to practice law, which he obtained in 1968, but is not active. He said he keeps the license because it gives him more access to do research for friends who ask for legal advice.

"I keep thinking someday I'll get tired of what I'm doing and want to go back (to practicing)," Whedon said. "It's difficult to give up something you've invested so much time and effort in for so many years. But I wanted to do other things while I was still young enough to enjoy them."

Published: Thu, May 9, 2013

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