Bar News - November 5, 2004
Opinions ~ End Game: There is Life After the Law
By: Laurence J. Gillis
A Lawyer's Life
This article is the first in a semi-regular series, titled "A Lawyer's Life" to which we encourage readers to contribute ideas or articles concerning lawyers' lifestyles and the impact of the legal profession on one's personal life. Your comments and participation are encouraged. Contact Dan Wise at email@example.com.
I RECENTLY RETIRED from the courtroom after 33 years of practicing law. I don't accept any new cases and all my old cases are closed. The phone doesn't ring and my mailbox is almost empty, except for the inevitable third-class mail.
If you think all this sounds like "civil death" of some sort-that I am allowed to roam among the living without actually being alive-you are wrong. I started planning for this state of affairs many years ago.
In other words, I am quite alive, but thanks for asking. In this, the ninth month of my retirement, I am teaching a part-time college course on criminal law and have recently completed teaching a course on legal ethics and before that a course on legal research. It pleases me to inform you that I am doing all this teaching on-line.
This means that while you are driving through the snow, hustling to get to a hearing in front of a judge who will cheerfully barbeque you when you get there, I will be working, too, but I will be at home in my jammies-and my paycheck will be deposited electronically.
Or, I may be doing my teaching from my lounger at poolside in Cape Coral, Florida, which is what I did last winter. I had thought of getting into the pool, with my wireless laptop on a float, but decided that it might be pushing my luck. Life can be cruel sometimes.
Very recently in my retirement, I became the regular host of a weekly radio talk show in Portsmouth, interviewing really interesting people and fielding tough questions from the public. This is much less demanding than contending with folks like you in the courtroom. I suppose I should thank you for honing my skills in the verbal arts. In any case, the program gives me an excuse to get out of the house for a while and then to have a double espresso in downtown Portsmouth after the program is over for that week.
The process of making a smooth transition into retirement should begin many years in advance but should not compete for your attention while you engage in the practice of law. Actually, done right, it can be complementary to your practice and make you a more valuable resource to your clients (and to your firm).
For example, the teaching that I have mentioned actually began early in my legal career and is an obvious way of melding your daytime skills into your "other existence." I have no teaching degrees so I started slow and easy, with simple courses with obvious appeal that I offered at a local adult education program - my first was a course called "Criminal Law for Fun and Profit."
Meanwhile, I was doing cops-and-robbers work during the day, so teaching cops-and-robbers at night wasn't difficult and cut down dramatically on the preparation time for an intelligent presentation. Of course, the subject matter was inherently interesting, so that helped a lot. I then taught other law-related courses for the adult ed program.
Later, I repackaged the criminal law course, and talked my way into teaching it at UNH as a continuing education course. Then I took it to Rivier College and Hesser College and later went on-line with Kaplan University, which is how I became accustomed to wearing my pajamas when I work. All this is rather like looking up the title on a piece of property, then selling it to successive clients, if you know what I mean.
I should also note that I have always had a substantial interest in writing, and I wanted to write regularly under deadline pressure. So, a long time ago I contacted the local newspaper to see if I could write a weekly movie-review column. They needed some "cheap filler,' so I became what is now known as a "content provider."
My law partner was very concerned at the time that our clients would think we were desperate if one of us had to start writing movie reviews. So, I became "Kermit Archbald" (Don't ask how). I did that for most of a year, and then stopped.
Sometime later, as a young lawyer armed with teaching experience and a portfolio of published writing, I approached a weekly newspaper with a proposal for a weekly legal-advice column. The paper was grateful, and offered to use my name, my photo and my address and phone. It was a deal.
Incidentally, I used the criminal law course to get myself into teaching it to second- year students at a law school - in Lithuania! The school paid for my airfare and lodging and paid an honorarium.
To prepare yourself for life after the law, probably the most important thing to do is to adjust your thinking about yourself, and to do it now, while you are still practicing.
Given the fascination our society has for lawyers - particularly trial lawyers, and especially criminal trial lawyers - it is much too easy to allow the law and lawyering to become the key component in our sense of self. Being a lawyer comes to define us and to color everything we do. The best I can do is to suggest you start by developing skills other than the forensic skills we all have as attorneys and to begin to find real joy in those new skills.
So, in looking to the future, build on what you know already and you will be able to segue easily into retirement. Try it.
Laurence J. Gillis pads about in his pajamas and slippers in Rye, NH and can be reached through cyberspace at Laurence_Gillis_ab64@post.Harvard.edu. Visit his web site at http://www.LaurenceJGillis.com.
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