- Can Lawyers Learn to Retire?
1). Let me first say your stimulus check is not taxable but your unemployment is. Now with that bit of tax info in place I want to let you in on an article which I wrote for the Practical Tax Lawyer. It may hit home these days if you are wondering whether all this legal stuff has just about driven you crazy and you think you may be ready to hit the silks. It’s too long for a single dose so look for the rest next month..or better yet subscribe to this ALI-CLE publication yourself. So here it is:
Can Lawyers Learn to Retire? Ted David, Esq
You Gotta Know When to Hold Them… Know When to Fold Them
Kenny Rodgers..The Gambler
I am writing this article in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. Yes, I am writing it from home. But being home is natural for me these days as I have closed my law office in Hackensack, New Jersey after 45 years in practice. I timed it to coincide with my 72nd birthday. I like you never wanted to be anything else but a lawyer. I was so enamored with law school that I took two law degrees. The second was an LLM in taxation from NYU. It made all the difference. It eventually allowed me to be both a tenured university professor teaching in an MS tax program that I helped create in a school that allowed me to continue my professional practice as a tax solo practitioner. My practice was limited to IRS tax disputes before the jingle lawyers of today who ask “Do you owe IRS $10,000.” I wrote two books on the subject that still appear on the internet. The practice and the university was a marriage made in heaven and I felt so good about it that I wrote an article for ALI-CLE some years ago called “Can Lawyers Learn to be Happy. “It is still worth reading for perhaps pre-retirement planning. Now times have changed and many of my colleagues grow gray in the temple and long in the tooth. Needless to say, some are gone, others have in fact retired, but many still soldier on. Maybe it’s for them that I am writing this article. But it is also for younger lawyers. Perhaps this virus has got them wondering about the day when they too may retire. I have seen a plaque saying, “Aging isn’t for Sissies.” Believe me either is retirement.
When is it time to retire?
When? indeed. How do you know when it’s time to fold them? It is a personal and professional decision to retire. Some clues may present themselves: You catch yourself asking what you are doing “wasting” what time you have left on the planet. You may even feel you’re just not as “sharp” as you once were. Or you start day dreaming what the next part of your life could be. Going to the office becomes a grind and client questions are more annoying than challenging. You may start to duck referrals not wanting to take on the work. Your “grouch” factor is on high too many days. Your employees complain about it. Your family chimes in also. You envy those who are retired and their lifestyles. You notice you read travel books, gaze at maps and watch YouTube videos of foreign places instead of the latest case digests. There may be a general malaise you can’t pin down. Any and all could suggest you may be ready.
Is Retirement for Lawyers Different?
As a law student and in your legal career your path and purpose was clear whether you practiced as a solo or a partner in a firm or as general counsel to a large corporation. You knew where you were going. In fact that road was well marked and tens of thousands had gone before you. Retirement is different. More personal and unchartered.
Let’s face it, if you were good at this your chosen profession it carried with it prestige and status. You and others knew exactly who you were. No need to wonder about it. In fact no matter what you may do in your life when it comes your time to go to the other side among your identifying credentials will be the fact that you were a lawyer. During your career clients needed you and you needed them. Your ego was stroked most every day; not to mention all those glorious pay checks and retainers. You may have even thought of yourself as a big shot involved in your Bar Association as a known “Brand.” So retirement for you means giving all that up. From a somebody to just plain you. From a big shot to no shot at all. The mere thought of it can leave you shaking in your boots. I have done it and speak from experience. But it doesn’t hurt to heed the words of another plaque that hung in my office: “No amount of planning can ever take the place of dumb luck.” A little luck doesn’t hurt. But luck has been called the “residue of design.” So planning for it makes sense.
Alternatives to retirement
Before you leap out of the practice you may want to consider alternatives to complete retirement. I thought about them as well. I was lucky enough to have a full tenured university position from which I retired at age 66 almost 7 years ago. I wrote an article called “So you want to be of Counsel” when I was considering that role. That article may be of some help to you. There is also per diem work in very select areas. Then there is the myth of the “part-time” practice. Realize that expenses may remain constant while your income is low in this part-time professional practice making it unable to be sustained. So too is the idea of “cutting back” I liken that to just having one toothache. I feel you are either practicing or not. It can spoil the best retirement plans. There’s also government service whether it is seasonal or part-time. For example, IRS hires part-time employees during every tax season. University work as an adjunct, that is a person with no tenure possibilities, requires a great deal of work and energy and is absolutely no picnic with poor pay. Looking for a career in retirement as a tenured university professor depends a great deal upon your experience and your academic credentials. It is a difficult page to turn for older persons. Obtaining tenure with endless publishing and committee work is far from guaranteed no matter prior law experience. Having only a law degree in most cases will not be enough especially these days. To be Continued…..