It is a fine balance because you, the mature lawyer, bring much to the table, yet you are not up to the 14 hour trial days you once handled with ease. I personally have chosen a modified approach by soon voluntarily leaving the equity ownership, even though I have seven more years of eligibility. The plan is to still practice, doing that which I enjoy, but fully recognizing that I am yielding the General Counsel position and other firm positions that tended to make the younger people listen to me. Giving notice of 2½ years, I often had to firmly state: “I am not dead yet”, as they sometimes try to walk around me to get a different answer from my successor in training. That is just the nature of any “lame duck” position.
The personal issue for each of you has to be about you and your family, not just the money. Understand the underlying pressures from your younger partners if you have cut back your effort, but not your income, and balance the fairness. How did you react as a young partner? Most firms have now embraced the modified concept and gone away from the gold watch and the move to Florida retirement. Non-Equity and Counsel positions allow the flexibility of continued practice and income based upon your production, or based upon an agreed annual number. Think it out in advance and strike a workable deal. I am a believer in going out on top. Do not be the elderly lawyer hiding your own Easter eggs.
Bob Minto, retired CEO of the lawyers’ liability carrier ALPS, posted an article recently “To Retire or Not to Retire, That is the Question”. As he says, there is no magic answer, but we both advocate considered judgment and thoughtful analysis in advance.
My wife’s uncle, an aeronautical engineer, retired in 1965 and at age 97 living in southern California, has had a wonderful complete second life. I shoot skeet with a 97-year-old psychiatrist who retired in 1985 and keeps mentally sharp with daily reading and puzzles. Yet we see “young” lawyers afflicted with illness and issues that have prevented the above types of retirements.
Some of the other published thoughts out there are almost comical. Medical data suggest a mental slow down and losing a step or two (as in, did I already wash my hair?) at a certain age. Yet other data indicates active brain involvement by not retiring before 65 decreased the odds of dementia than if you retired at age 60. The World Health Organization (WHO) sets “healthy life expectancy” by country to determine the most sensible ages for retirement. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) keeps U.S. stats and, of course, the healthy stats for states points the way for the best retirement (Hawaii the best and Mississippi the worst). So the previously lived quality of life is the big factor in the quality of the retirement issue it seems.
There just is no absolute answer, but you need to think it out in advance. Don’t go full throttle as a lawyer, quit, and then whither. As Toby Keith says in his country song: “I am not as good as I once was, but I am as good once as I ever was.” Wonder what he meant there? In any event, think it out and plan it out. Do what is best for you and your family, not the billable hour.
 ALPS 411 site, June 11, 2013, by Robert Minto.