Aurora Donnelly is a solo practitioner always looking forward to the next exciting transition.
Older friends tell me, almost unanimously, to wait as long as possible to retire. Some who did well retired in their early 50s — they were excited about all the free time they would have to do their own thing once they shed the work routine. Some of them found themselves looking for something meaningful to do after only a couple of months of retirement.
Having a hobby doesn’t necessarily satisfy the need for something meaningful to do. Playing golf gets to be a routine also, and eventually loses its attraction. Shopping, lunches, taking/teaching classes occupy your time and mind for a while, but what happens with the rest of the time? You have to have a passion that drives you.
A lawyer friend and mentor is almost 80 years old and he is always eager to take new cases (the ones that interest him) and feels he could handle even more work than his pretty brisk practice provides. And law is his second career after retiring as a medical doctor!
I do know someone who is happy not working and at 56 has been retired for eight years. But even so, she has problems sleeping and seems to become obsessed with her many causes. She was a successful business owner for years and all that energy has to go somewhere now.
Whenever I have a free window of time I do some pro bono work, but that is not the same as being in the fray of practice, with a steady stream of appointments, court dates and filings or having some other place you have to be at a specific time to do some specific thing for pay. When I am not busy I worry about my sense of worth and feel unanchored, you could say I get depressed. There is a tight connection between my work, my ability to bring in an income and how I feel about myself.
So older lawyers, in spite of the condition of the legal market and the economy, are likely to keep going for quite a while past traditional retirement age, given that they enjoy good health. We may not be as busy as we would like, but we’ll be out there grappling with work issues, just like our younger counterparts.
One of the benefits of being an attorney is that you can practice as long as you can competently represent your clients. Since you don’t answer to anyone but yourself you can work as long as you are able to sign up clients and do the work. Part of my motivation for going to law school later in life was to have interesting work to do for the last couple of decades (hopefully!) of my work life.
I am happy to realize that I don’t have to go through my “not working anxiety” any time soon, I don’t have to worry about coming up with engrossing hobbies or how to fill my time. So far in my career that has never happened, I have always had more to do than I could realistically get done and for me, that’s good.