Can I Retire Yet?

Can I Retire Yet? Personal and Practice Considerations

This article is the first in our upcoming series on retirement and career transitions for senior attorneys.

By Susan J. Mundahl

It is now Wednesday afternoon, the week after two divorce trials, and I am sitting at my desk with over 200 emails that need to be sifted through and answered. I was a single mom for most of my adult life. Now, my two children are grown, and I am lucky enough to have two grandchildren who are about to enter middle school. I am in year 34 of practice and year 11 of owning my own law firm. I am 67 years old. Thankfully, my law firm made it through the pandemic and business is picking up. 

I just entered into partnership this year with one of my associates, and we recently hired another new associate. We always seem to be looking for another good paralegal. In addition to human resource issues, I am dealing with rising costs of everything, including marketing, utilities, supplies, and staff benefits. I’ve also had to invest in technology and marketing to transition my business to a post-pandemic world. There is an excellent book called Minding Your Own Business, in which the author, Ann Guinn, states that as a small law firm owner, I have to be an entrepreneur, administrator, marketing expert, and, finally, practice law. 

So here I sit wondering: Can I retire yet?

There are myriad concerns that we baby boomers face as we figure out how to transition from working full-time as attorneys to the glorious promise of retirement and beyond. As I consider the next stage in my life, I’ve been asking myself questions about retiring. 

Question 1: Am I healthy enough to continue to work full-time days and handle the ongoing stress of a law practice? 

My first consideration needs to be my health and well-being. An attorney recently opined that the law is the only profession other than professional boxing where one is up against a skilled opponent whose only job is to take you down. And I admit that after 34 years of practice, some days I feel very beat up by opposing counsel, judges, and even some of my own clients. Being in my sixties, my eyesight isn’t as good, and neither is my hearing. While I’d like to live to 100, I really don’t know if I will become disabled or when I will die. A colleague and family law attorney recently died of a heart attack at 65. It was very sudden. As we age, we need to consider whether it’s time to slow down or retire from the practice of law. Our health and wellbeing may depend on it.

Question 2: Can I afford to retire?

The next consideration is financial. Retiring is a real challenge for us boomers now, since a lot of us are still partially supporting our children and maybe even our parents. With the price of everything going up, the stock market going down, and interest rates for savings accounts at less than one percent, we need to ask, “Do I have enough money saved to retire?” I know a lot of folks on fixed retirement incomes, and many are concerned about the rent going up, along with all the other necessities of life, including groceries, gas, etc. They worry if they can afford to eat out, travel, or take vacations. If you don’t know whether you can afford to retire, then now is the time to talk with a good financial advisor and start planning.

Question 3: Who needs to know that I’m retiring, and how will they be affected by my plans?

I have several people to consider when I think about retirement. First is my family: are they ready or willing to have me around more often? Right now, I’m working five days a week, so I only have time to see my grown kids a few times a month. How will they feel if I want to chat or stop by every day? If I had a spouse, I would have to consider how they are going to handle retirement: mine and theirs. What are the two of us going to do all day with each other? And I have to think about my staff. How will my retirement affect them? Will some staff lose their jobs? And what about my clients? Are they going to want to have someone else take over their case? All the important people in your life need to be considered prior to making the decision to retire. 

Question 4: What do I do with my practice?

Do I sell it? Do I enter into an agreement with other attorneys for a long-term buy out? Do I simply close the doors and say good-bye? To entertain any of these options, you need to know what your practice is worth and if there is someone interested in taking over for you. You’ll need to get a business valuation done and to talk with other attorneys about each of the above options. You also need to work on a succession plan now, just in case something happens when you least expect it. As attorneys, we have an ethical duty to see that our clients’ needs are taken care of, even if we get sick or die. A good succession plan will help alleviate your concerns about what happens when you are finished practicing law.

Question 5: Who am I if I’m not an attorney? 

What do I do every day if I am not working? It can help to have other passions or interests that you plan to pursue once you retire. As a prelude to retirement, I moved into an age 60+ apartment community in January of this year. There are always activities going on, like bridge, canasta, nickels, mahjong, pickle ball, table tennis, yoga, and swimming . Getting into such a community has helped me—and a lot of folks around my age—make the transition from working every day to playing and relaxing. But after a lifetime of service to others, what do I do next? I wonder, if I am no longer a part of the working world, why am I still here? 

Everyone should be thinking about end-of-life issues. A lot of folks still have not gotten wills or health care directives set up. As we age, we need to start thinking about preparing for our probable infirmities, but it’s also a time that we start thinking about our death. The bottom line is that our bodies don’t live forever. As we think about retiring and the next phase of our lives, it’s important to prepare. While this isn’t an exhaustive list of questions, I hope it helps you think about the physical, mental, and financial plans you should be making.

Susan Mundahl, owner and president of Mundahl Law, is a family law Attorney of over 34 years and an expert in Divorce and Child Custody matters in the State of Minnesota. She has written over 200 blogs and recorded over 60 podcasts on these topics. Her passion, integrity, and personal experience guide her. Her motto is “Children are not a prize to be won.”