Reflections on Retiring
As baby boomers, many of us are starting to plan our retirement. Or at least the dream is there, and it isn’t entirely dependent on that scratcher you just picked up at the 7-11. It’s not as easy as just deciding to retire, though, is it? I mean, we are attorneys. We have fiduciary duties to our clients. We can’t just send out a letter on Monday letting everyone know we are closing shop on Friday, and good luck to you! To that end, here are some thoughts from a recent retiree, Mark Frisbie, at the age of 66:
For me, the decision to retire, including the target retirement date, was made more than 18 months in advance. Because I was a sole practitioner, reducing my load of ongoing cases was an early step, since I had no partners or successors in mind to continue my practice. As early as two years before the target date, I began declining new contested matters, non-terminating trust administrations, conservatorships and guardianships, since I might not be able to finish them before closing my office. I also began taking Mondays off.
About 15 months before my target closing date, I sent a letter to all of my current clients and most of my former ones giving advance notice of my plan to close my office. In that letter, I suggested they review their estate plans and/or finish any pending work within the next year, if possible, and not wait until the last minute. I also mentioned the name of a younger, experienced attorney with whom I shared office space, to whom I could introduce them at our next meeting for continuing representation or referral.
About six months before my target closing date, I searched for and reviewed advisory materials for solo practitioners about office closing procedures. I had saved some of these materials from earlier CLE courses on the subject; others I found on the state bar website. About five months before closing, I mailed another reminder letter to those clients with pending unfinished matters. I made a list of all pending matters in which I was attorney of record in a court proceeding. For those matters that I did not expect to finish by the target closing date, I considered what other attorneys I would recommend to the clients for substitution into the case. I then called the clients to explain the need for substitution, the process for doing so, their right to choose their own attorney, information about my recommended attorney, and I offered to introduce them.
One factor was especially important in choosing referral attorneys: relative youth, with at least five years of experience. I did not want my clients to face the prospect of changing attorneys again within the next 20 years, so I wanted to match them with an experienced attorney that much younger than me. Most of the time that turned out to be Tracy Regli, and from those connections I received an unexpected offer from Acuna Regli to acquire my practice. That made it a whole lot easier to transition to retirement.
Even though I have made the decision to retire, I know there will be things I will miss. Most importantly, I will miss having the opportunity to be of help both to people wise enough to plan for their own future and to friends in the midst of a dispute requiring interaction with the legal system for resolution. Next to the monetary compensation that I needed for self-support, client appreciation was probably the biggest “payoff” for me (if and when it came), followed by the opportunity to try to do some good for my clients and do my small part in contributing to the society from which I receive so many good things.
As I look back on my years of practice, there are some things I didn’t do that I wish I had. For example, I wish I had published scholarly articles, become a recognized expert in my field, done a lot more to teach and/or mentor younger attorneys, and made a fortune without feeling like I was burdening my clients and getting paid more than I was really worth. I just didn’t work hard enough, I guess (tongue in cheek).
For the next several months, though, my plan is to just enjoy a respite from having responsibility for other people’s legal needs. Although I will not be practicing law, I will be seeking other ways to make a contribution to my community. I do not believe that simply enjoying myself will be a sufficiently satisfying purpose for living. So I might do tutoring of underprivileged kids, volunteer as a Court Appointed Special Advocate, or make presentations on end-of-life planning through Advance Health Care Directives and Physician’s Orders on Life Sustaining Treatment and ethical wills. Perhaps I will even look into grand jury service. I believe the pursuit of justice is noble endeavor, and I feel fortunate to live in a society where the practice of law is largely consistent with that objective. There are certainly plenty of other societies where corruption or scarce resources make justice more difficult to achieve.
I also feel fortunate to have practiced in Contra Costa County. We have capable and dedicated judicial and court officers, local bar leadership, and staff. For me, bar association activities have been an important avenue for establishing and maintaining good relationships with colleagues. Having a practice that requires court appearances has also enhanced collegiality with the other attorneys I have met there. I have enjoyed my time practicing in Contra Costa County and a large part of that is the people with whom I was privileged to work.
If I had to leave you with parting words of wisdom they would be this: Mediate, don’t litigate your disputes, if at all possible.