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Signs that it may be time to retire from practicing law – and what to do next

The signs it might be time to retire from legal practice

For many attorneys, practicing law is a labor of love. It doesn’t matter what the public perception of lawyers is, these tireless advocates put their heads down and constantly strive toward justice.

Yet, for even the best-intentioned lawyers, there comes a time when practicing law is no longer practicable.

The reasons for stepping away from the law are as vast as the reasons for stepping into it. Nonetheless, there are certain signs the universe hands us that make the decision to walk away more urgent.

We’ve compiled some of the top reasons you should consider retiring from the law, then we can have a brief discussion of what a post-law life might look like for you.

Sign #1: Cognitive decline

It is somewhat disheartening to hear that for most people, thinking abilities peak at age 30 and then slowly decline thereafter.

Nonetheless, many people continue to function quite well into their 70s, 80s, and even 90s.

Lawyers, in particular, tend to have higher cognitive abilities later in life than people in other professions. In fact, twice as many lawyers practice after age 65 than people in other careers.

That said, there comes a time when even the best lawyers begin to falter.

Signs of cognitive decline include things like:

  • Feeling overwhelmed when faced with relatively minor decisions
  • Not remembering recent conversations or events
  • Impulsivity
  • Missing deadlines or appointments
  • Inability to organize regular tasks

 

Of course, we all have bad days. But if these symptoms are starting to occur with frequency, it’s probably time to undergo cognitive testing and consider stepping away from the practice of law.

Sign #2: You don’t enjoy practicing anymore

Recent studies revealed that over 50% of lawyers are frustrated with their careers.

As you age, a lack of enjoyment in your career becomes more poignant.

The truth is, life is short. And not to be morose, but three of the top five regrets people have on their deathbed have everything to do with continuing on in a career they didn’t enjoy: (1) regretting they worked so hard; (2) regretting they didn’t allow themselves to be happier; (3) regretting they didn’t have the courage to live a life true to their own desires.

Moreover, disliking your job can lead to serious problems in your personal life, such as harming your marriage or ruining your sex life.

If these kinds of thoughts and problems are weighing you down, maybe it’s time to consider retiring from the law and living a life more focused on personal fulfillment.

Sign #3: Your practice is impacting your mental health

No matter what area of law you practice, being an attorney is a stressful job.

Unfortunately, over time, that stress can cause all sorts of mental and emotional issues. Things like substance abuse, anxiety, and depression are rampant in the legal profession.

While there are certainly ways to deal with those issues without walking away from your career, there may come a time when the mental costs of doing the job outweigh the benefits.

When it comes to making that assessment, it’s probably a good idea to meet with a therapist or career coach who understands the demands of your job and how those demands are impacting your life.

Sign #4: Your practice is impacting your physical health

The stress of lawyering can also take a toll on one’s physical health. Lawyers, for example, are more prone to heart disease than other professionals.

To add insult to injury, the sedentary nature of an attorney’s work increases the chances of things like obesity, diabetes, colon cancer, and high blood pressure.

Those of us who’ve faced serious health challenges know that there’s nothing to make you rethink early retirement like learning that your job is threatening your life. If you think your health is starting to suffer because of your practice, it’s time to talk to your doctor about how retirement might improve your future.

What if it is time to retire? Next steps

If you’ve made the decision that it is time to retire from practicing law, don’t despair. The truth is, there are all sorts of things you can do.

We’re not going to presume you need a list from us of all the fun things you can do in retirement (like traveling, volunteering, and pursuing hobbies).

You might, however, need some ideas for ways you can continue to make money.

Here are some of our favorite post-law occupations:

  • Writer: Lawyers are very well-suited to become professional writers. Whether you want to be a journalist, novelist, or freelance content creator, the opportunities are endless.
  • Entrepreneur: Lawyers have been trained to understand every aspect of their clients’ businesses (in addition to the business of lawyering). It’s not surprising then that lawyers frequently found their own start-ups.
  • Teacher: Let’s face it: lawyers know a lot of things about a lot of things. We also have that fancy doctorate degree that buys us entry into several teaching arenas. While teaching can undoubtedly be stressful, it can also be very personally rewarding.
  • Recruiter: Just because the practice of law isn’t working for you anymore doesn’t mean you can’t spot a good legal hire from a mile away. Lawyers tend to make wonderful legal recruiters because they understand the business and its demands like no one else.

 

We understand that the decision to retire from the practice of law is one of the biggest decisions you’ll ever make.

Be sure to give yourself grace and patience in weighing this option. Talk to your friends, family, and colleagues. Seek professional help if you need or want to.

And then, should you decide to step away, try to find a new occupation that feeds your heart and soul, whether it’s a new career or a meaningful life pursuit.

Author

  • Jennifer Anderson practiced business litigation in California from 1999 to 2016. When she’s not writing from her floating cabin on the Columbia River, she can be found hiking or kayaking around the Pacific Northwest.