Downshifting Your Practice: Exit Strategies for Baby Boomer Lawyers

by Alexa Drago on October 13, 2020

By Jay Kamlet and Jordan Deifik


As those lawyers on the younger end of the baby boomer generation approach retirement age, there has been an increase of discussion regarding client retention, transition of client loads to younger lawyers, and the role older attorneys should play in a law firm. As a baby boomer lawyer, you may have many of these same questions yourself. It’s important to remember that you are the engineer of your own career, and you have the power to downshift your law practice in a way that honors the time you have spent building your career while also freeing up time to spend on other pursuits.


Know the Policies and Procedures of Your Current Law Firm


By the time you start thinking about your next step, you should already be well-versed in the policies of your law firm. While most practices do not have mandatory retirement ages or limits on attorneys’ roles after a certain age, quite a few have put measures in place that essentially dictate the course of your career. If the policies outlined by your firm are not in line with your goals for your practice, it may be time to consider striking out on your own as a solo practitioner.


Plan Ahead for a Smooth Transition


The process of effectively handing clients over to younger attorneys is one that often takes years, not months. How you approach this depends entirely on the timeline you have set for your career. For some, the goal may be a complete handover of clients and a switch to a mentorship or leadership role. For others, the goal could be a gradual client handover and a slow shift to a leadership position.


Either way, it is important to have solid collaborations with younger attorneys who can be fully trusted with the client relationships you have built throughout the course of your career. Some firms do not have a client transition strategy in place. This is something that must be addressed sooner rather than later.


Consider How Your Experience and Passion Could Benefit the Next Generation of Attorneys


Among lawyers near or past the standard retirement age, there are a number of reasons that retirement is not a top priority. For many, money is not the driving factor, but a passion for the practice of law. Attorneys often thrive on the feeling of making a difference in people’s lives and the challenge of solving complex problems. Standard retirement, compared to a gradual downshift, does not offer solutions for those who want to remain a contributing member of the community they have spent their entire careers in.


The experience, knowledge, and passion you bring to the table could make you the ideal mentor for new and established attorneys within your area of practice. The natural leadership skills found in baby boomers can mesh well with the drive found in millennial lawyers. Millennial attorneys often report a strong interest in mentorship and guidance, knowing that support from more experienced attorneys can make them a greater asset to their firms and their clients.


If giving back to the legal community and the next generation of attorneys appeals to you, consider the mentorship options available at your firm. Attorneys interested in expanding their leadership role often choose to move away from a big law firm and establish themselves as a solo attorney. While big law firms may have rigid mentorship programs that require each experienced attorney to work with one mentee, small and solo law firms offer much more flexibility.


Mentoring younger attorneys can also benefit your clients. If you have strong relationships with attorneys you have mentored for years, you can pass your clients to them and feel confident that they will treat your clients well. This improves the client experience and preserves the relationships you have worked so hard to build.


Give Yourself the Freedom to Serve in Any Capacity You Choose


When you look at the growing number of baby boomers working as solo attorneys, it is clear that their decision often comes down to freedom. As a solo attorney, you can decide how much time you would like to spend working with clients and how much time you want to spend mentoring promising attorneys.


You can also decide which work environment best nurtures your career goals. Working in a big law firm can be fairly isolating, limiting you to collaborations and networking opportunities with those within the same firm. Many attorneys have rejected the big law firm experience and turned instead to lawyer-only coworking spaces. This working environment allows attorneys to work alone when it suits them while still providing numerous opportunities to network, build professional relationships with those across different areas of practice, and become part of the local law community. A shift in your working environment could be the ideal way to start the next phase of your law career and influence new attorneys at previously unseen levels.


Your practice does not have to be an all-or-nothing scenario. The changing culture of the legal industry has paved the way for attorneys near retirement age to retire, continue working at previous levels, or plan a gradual downshift in their caseload.


About LawBank


With three locations and a range of private offices, suites, and open work spaces—and amenities rivaling any “Big Law” office in town—LawBank is Denver’s premier shared office space for solo practice lawyers. LawBank offers shared office space for lawyers in a collegial setting that encourages collaboration, referrals, mentoring, contracting and co-counsel relationships, and a host of resources to make your practice thrive. More information can be found at www.law-bank.com


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