Category Archives: lawyer retirement

MidLaw among the mortals

I am back from Quebec where I was invited to present again my topic from last year in Vienna, “The Aging of the Professions and How to Stop It.”

Again, I brought my message of aging, disability, and death.

By some accounts, 25% of the legal profession is 65 years old and older.

And I bring this further insight: the older you get, the more you depreciate. If you are 60, it’s time to start counting.

Yes, I know.  Actuarially, your life expectancy actually begins to lengthen modestly after a certain point on the principle that, if you survive for long enough, then that implies that you will continue to survive modestly longer than what the projection might have been earlier.

But (in the end) life expectancy is really death expectancy, and it never goes away.

Of course, this insight, that the older you get, the more likely you will experience the depredations of age, has major implications for individual professionals (“Old Lawyers Not Fade Away“). But in Quebec and Vienna, my point was that there are different implications for the management of professional firms that demand separate attention from the implications for individuals.

More than that: BigLaw has options — mandatory retirement, client succession, senior status — that may not be open to MidLaw. And, increasingly, small firms and solo practices have options to sell that are not open to mid-sized firms.

So, the management of aging in mid-sized law firms demands separate management. The issue is strategic and the solutions are not as simple as the terms “mandatory” and “retirement” may imply.

A different discussion ensues.

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Old Lawyers – Not Fade Away

For reasons we can discuss at another time, I’ve been reading materials about retirement lately.

Most recently, I’ve read: Aging Well, by George Vaillant, which somebody told me is the best book about its subject (it presents Vaillant’s conclusions arising out of the Harvard Study of Adult Development); and Managing Oneself, by Peter Drucker, which is Drucker’s celebrated article on knowledge workers, a big chunk of which is titled “The Second Half of Your Life”; and a recent article that appeared in the NY Times. The Times article is “Asked About Retiring, They Have a Simple Answer: Why?

Each piece advises: stay engaged, keep up connections to others, sustain a sense of purpose, exercise, and don’t drink too much. These are the keys to aging well.

And each of those pieces points to selected lawyers as their best examples of persons who are aging well.

One is amused.

Lawyers themselves at this moment are identifying aging and the retirement (or non-retirement) of the Baby Boom Generation as great challenges facing the legal profession.  Lawyers who stay too long are seen as a growing problem. Bar institutions are beginning to examine age-related infirmities, to offer programs on aging, and to form support agencies to counsel with lawyers about retiring, transitioning their practices, and managing disabilities. In law firms, many are more direct: they want advice about how to get older lawyers out of the way. And consultants are queuing up to meet the demand.

So, what are lawyers: models or problems?

Let’s get one thing out of the way. The lawyers cited by the Times and in Aging Well are really judges. The Times poster-senior-citizen is Judge Jack Weinstein. Judge Weinstein is 96 years old. “I’ve never thought of retiring,” he says. He is a senior Federal District Judge for the Eastern District of New York. After he exercises, he goes to work every day at 7 AM. He hears motions in the morning and tries cases in the afternoon.

No doubt about it, the picture of going full bore to 96 is a great image.

But the guy is a Federal District Court Judge. He has a lifetime appointment. It’s guaranteed by the Constitution. That’s bound to affect how you retire. And remember, judging is unique. It’s one of the few jobs that is commonly done by sitting in an upholstered chair, often with your eyes closed, listening to other people talk. And it’s a job best performed by experienced, deliberate practitioners who are adept at recognizing patterns of behavior and applying time-tested responses to them. It’s the perfect old-guy job.

And remember too, this guy is Judge Jack Weinstein. For Judge Weinstein, if he’s limited himself to hearing motions and trying cases, then he has retired. Years ago, he was Chief Judge, he was handling a huge load of the most complex litigation in the country, and he was writing one book and article after another – including a major, multi-volume treatise on civil procedure. If what he’s doing now is limited to motions and trials, then, for him, that’s cutting way back.

Maybe the best lesson here is that Judge Weinstein is still engaged, still connected with other people, and still grounded in a sense of purpose. And he exercises every morning at 5:30 AM.

Well, the rest of us are not Weinsteins and we’re not judges.

Our energy, stamina and mental fluidity begin their decline in our 20’s. In our 60’s, susceptibilities to disability, cognitive impairment and mortality become statistically significant. But the fund of our experience and relationships, our ability to recognize patterns, and the wisdom of our judgments continue to grow – up to a point. Troublesomely, that point is different for every person.

Traditionally, lawyers have had many choices and good options for navigating these waters. Practicing law was never a job. It was a career. And lawyer’s careers have had an arc that corresponds in large measure with commonly recognized stages of adult development.

In broad terms those stages can be characterized as (i) developing mastery of the profession, (ii) connecting developed skills with purposeful work, (iii) making a contribution (Vaillant: “generativity”), (iv) playing a role in conserving cultural and institutional values (Vaillant: “keeping meaning”), and ultimately (v) growing into an integrated and meaningful life (Vaillant: “integrity”).

Peter Drucker characterized the careers of knowledge workers in parallel ways. He observed that “knowledge workers are not ‘finished’ after 40 years on the job, they are merely bored.” He said,

At 45, most executives have reached the peak of their business careers, and they know it. After 20 years of doing very much the same kind of work, they are very good at their jobs. But they are not learning or contributing or deriving challenge and satisfaction from the job. And yet they are still likely to face another 20 if not 25 years of work.

Drucker envisioned these accomplished, but bored executives as either developing a second career, or parallel career or becoming “social entrepreneurs.” And, like Vaillant and the Times, Drucker pointed to lawyers as examples of professionals who do this well.

For Drucker and Vaillant and the Times to lift up lawyers was no mere coincidence. Unlike business executives, lawyers in the 20th Century were not, like organization men or women, trapped in “jobs.” Their productivity was not (at least, not entirely) measured in terms of narrow productivity metrics. And, as lawyers’ careers developed, they moved naturally through those development stages, from mastery to purpose to generativity. Many lawyers became leading conservers of cultural and professional values. For many, their continuous transition through those different roles was baked into careers at a single firm. Over their careers, they evolved in place, and there was room to do that. Ultimately, rather than retire, lawyers could gradually “cut back.”

In effect, lawyers could retire in place. They continued to inhabit their identities as lawyers but reduced the levels of their engagement apace with their personal circumstances.

That alternative was not open to people with jobs. People with jobs can’t cut back. Jobs are cogs in organizations. They are measured by productivity. More is better and less is rarely a choice. The job extends beyond an individual’s career and the organizations must provide for the continuation of the job. So, after holders of jobs reach a certain point, they must go so the job can stay. Their organizations think of productivity and succession and transition.

Until the advent of large firms and practice groups and specialization, practicing law was not fraught with these concerns. Lawyers shaped their work to their lives.

Today though, lawyers are much more likely to have jobs. Lawyers in private practice are likely to be members of firms. And most firms are intent on surviving as organizations beyond the careers of their current members. So the context in which today’s lawyers are aging is changing.

For those lawyers who have jobs, they must plan for retirement like other knowledge workers who have jobs.

Lawyers in firms must accommodate their firms’ larger concerns. As lawyers age, their firms will be focussed on client demands, which are more likely to run to responsiveness and efficiency (even youth) than to deliberation and professionalism.

Internally in firms, the interests of senior members must be balanced against the expectations of younger ones. Firms must manage the advancement and retention of younger lawyers. They must provide training, experience, client development, and compensation for younger members. They must grapple with a changing profession.

All this means that choices are narrowing for older lawyers. Increasingly, traditional career patterns no longer suit. Latitude to align law practice with personal circumstances is shrinking.

But, like all Americans, lawyers today are remaining active and living longer than in the past. And lawyers are no more interested in retirement now than before.

So new models are needed, new ways of cutting back. The best of lawyers in the best of firms are not yet entirely job holders.

Advertisement for myself: The Aging of Professionals and What Can Be Done to Stop It

Herewith is essentially a press release to account for where I am and what I am doing.

Ed Winslow to present at World Conference of Lawyers and Accountants in Vienna

Brooks Pierce partner Ed Winslow has been invited to speak at the 2017 World Conference of the Geneva Group International (GGI) taking place from Oct. 19-22 in Vienna, Austria. GGI is a worldwide alliance of independent law, audit, tax, accounting, and professional advisory firms, ranked among the largest such organizations in the world with 566 member firms in 123 countries.  Winslow’s topic is “The Aging of Lawyers and What Can Be Done to Stop It.”

Following his presentation, Winslow will lead a panel discussion of lawyers and accountants from France, Germany, Washington, DC and Wichita, Kansas in which the panelists will address progressive management practices of professional services firms responding to the retirement of the Baby Boom Generation, including succession planning, creative roles for senior professionals, and alternatives to complete retirement.

Winslow, former managing partner of Brooks Pierce, has practiced law for over 40 years, with a focus on litigation, corporate law, and banking and financial services. He is the current chair of the board of trustees for the North Carolina State Bar Plan for Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts and was the first North Carolina attorney appointed to the American Bar Association’s Commission on the Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts. He is also chair of the board of trustees for Guilford College and a past member of the board of governors of the North Carolina Bar Association. He served as general counsel for the North Carolina Bankers Association for several decades.

 

Key elements of lawyers’ professional & personal satisfaction (i.e., happiness) identified

OWL FACE FreeGeorge Washington Law Review has published “the first theory-guided empirical research seeking to identify the correlates and contributors to the well-being and life satisfaction of lawyers.” A New York Times blog boiled it down: “Lawyers With Lowest Pay Report More Happiness.”

In short, a lot of lawyers were surveyed in a scientific way. The ones with the prestigious jobs and the high incomes reported lower senses of well-being and satisfaction than less “successful” peers in public service roles. Outrageously, making law review was reported to have ZERO correlation with happiness in later life.

Three elements in professional life were most closely identified with life-satisfaction. They are a sense of competence, a sense of autonomy and a sense of connectedness to others. The study says that for many lawyers (most, I suppose), careers in larger law firms do not deliver these.

Competence, autonomy and connectedness, are the pillars of Self-Determination Theory, a field of study among psychologists for more than 40 years. This new study is the first to test lawyers as a group. Turns out, lawyers test the same as everybody else. They are happiest in settings where they experience competence, autonomy and connectedness. (Disappointingly, we are no different from “non-lawyers.”)

The three factors themselves are worth attention. Notice how they line up with (i) the core principles of legal ethics, (ii) commonly encountered values of many law firms, (iii) often-identified 21st Century social skills, (iv) the capabilities of 21st Century technology, (v) attributes of Millennials in the workplace, and – mirabile dictu – (vi) observations that might be made about North Carolina lawyers practicing in the 19th Century.

This causes me to hold up these elements as “design principles” for next-generation law firms. That is, they might be taken as elements to be fostered in the law firms we will need in the aftermath of the Great Unbundling of legal services now under way. They also suggest directions for thinking about lawyer retirements.

In future posts perhaps, I will pound out the correspondences between the elements of self-determination, and key aspects of the new professional and social culture that is struggling to be born.

New lawyers, old ones and NewLaw — a prediction that the profession will survive

This winter of the legal profession’s discontent.HiRes

Work is down across the profession. Revenues are flat. Job offers are down. Applications to law schools are down. Older lawyers are not retiring, even as the conclusion is being drawn that fewer lawyers are needed, and younger ones are said to be departing the profession for the lack of opportunities. Although paying work is down, the legal services needs of low wealth communities are not met.

But this winter shall pass. Old lawyers will pass. New ones will rise. I predict this.

Maybe, the work of the future will be distributed differently among law firms, law departments and alternative services providers. Maybe, computers will do more of the work. Maybe, law firms will no longer deliver “full service.” Maybe most firms will serve targeted niches and deliver limited modules of service.

Perhaps the practice of law will look little as it once did.  Perhaps lawyers (like doctors and academics) will carry more the mantle of technicians than professionals. Perhaps generalists will be supplanted by specialists — by non-lawyers and service bureaux and by machines.

In the end, the new will rise. So be it.

But there will remain a constant demand for professionals who can bring experience and judgment to legal questions that are complex, uncertain and ambiguous. And this is not work for the institutions of NewLaw. “Classical lawyering” will remain.

And, there will remain those questions posed here several years ago — but repeated now in the words of an observer today.

Most, if not all, contracted lawyers working under the auspices of one of the NewLaw firms are essentially self-employed with the freedom and positive challenges this brings. But they have no security of income, no superannuation, no permanent social work environment, no paid annual leave, no long service leave and, usually, no training and organised continuing professional development.

Especially for young practitioners there is no structured professional education program and no employer-provided training in the basics of practice. And certainly no apprenticeship – the foundation on which the next generation of the profession has been built for generations.

So, when that new day comes and the new lawyers rise, who will have prepared them? Who will have trained them? How will their judgment have been forged?

Today, when experienced lawyers are plentiful, the institutions that might invest for the needs of the future are hard to discern. Who will train, develop, sustain and marinate lawyers for that day? Legal departments? Alternative providers? Or, law firms?

Whither apprenticeship?

 

Opportunity among the ruins

Opportunity among the ruins?opportunities among the ruins

Change is afoot.

In traditional law firms this demands wakefulness.  In fact, it demands wakefulnesss; a capacity to change; the ability to act; a willingness to invest ahead of coming developments; creative approaches to low-margin work; and an appetite for trial-and-error.

This is a field of opportunities for those with eyes to see.

Watson, the law practicing computer — and the “senior” lawyer

Social-SecurityCan Watson, the law practicing computer, replace lawyers?  Some say “yes”; some say “no”.

At a certain point in your career, it becomes a given that you will be replaced. And, at about the same time, whether you are replaced by a man or a machine starts to be a mere detail.

Can Watson can find a good Medicare Supplement?

Do I dare to eat a peach?