Stepping Away from Legal Careers: Are You Ready for Retirement?


Legal professionals invest years planning and training for their work in the legal profession. Winding down from a legal career after making the life-changing decision to retire requires significant preparation as well.

Here are some tips to thoughtfully lay the groundwork for your retirement from the active practice of law and to ensure your legal organization and clients are well-served through the transition.

Filling the intellectual void

Retirement can bewilder an individual who is used to constant intellectual challenge. So it’s important to think about retirement endeavors that can replace the mental stimulation you enjoyed in your legal position. 

Many lawyers who anticipate retirement choose initially to “taper off” their legal activities by shifting to project-oriented consulting work. Others choose pro bono as a helpful transition to retirement, especially if it leads to altruistic pursuits a lawyer didn’t have time for mid-career.

You may also find new outlets for your legal knowledge -- as an expert witness in an allied discipline, such as alternative dispute resolution (ADR), or in a leadership role in your state bar association. Your passion may be teaching, as adjunct faculty at a law school or college, or in continuing legal education (CLE). With your wealth of experience, you could likely be an ideal mentor for legal professionals just starting their careers. And many former lawyers have become active in politics.

No matter what you choose, look for a way to channel your drive so that your retirement years are just as meaningful and satisfying as your career has been.

The risk of outliving your savings

Financial preparedness is another key issue. Lawyers face the same challenge everyone else has in retirement: The risk that they will outlive their money.

To maintain your chosen standard of living over a 25- or even 30-year retirement, it’s important to understand the details of your organization’s retirement plan -- especially if, as is increasingly common, you have worked for several companies or firms during your legal career. Most firms offer tax qualified profit sharing plans, such as 401(k) plans; some provide employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs), which have their own compliance rules. Other plan types include profit sharing plansmoney purchase pension plans or defined benefit pension plans.

If you have any questions about your organization’s retirement plan, schedule a meeting with a benefits manager or HR professional -- or, in a small firm, the specific partner who has responsibility for retirement benefits.

Planning for succession

Once you decide you’re ready for retirement, you don’t have to stop working abruptly. Winding down work hours gradually during a time frame of a few years may better serve not only your interests, but those of your clients and your firm, allowing for a smooth transition of clients to other lawyers in the organization.

You may not have a say about which lawyer at your firm takes over for you with any given client. But you can support your firm’s succession plan and protect your clients’ interests by preparing them for the hand-off as far in advance of your retirement date as possible.

Are you thinking about stepping away from the legal profession? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.