Get a Life
11 February 2002
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5 September 2005
19 July 2004
12 April 2010
19 May 2008
Retirement is a funny thing. For those at the beginning of their careers it is unbelievably far away, while for those at the end of the career path it is often looming far too close for comfort. While the popular image of lawyers might be of dusty old men surrounded by leather-bound books, in today's market, once a lawyer hits 50 they are widely regarded as past their peak. And for some, the prospect of endless rounds of golf and falling asleep in front of Countdown is bleak.
The bad news is that, according to Yvonne Smyth, a consultant at recruitment agency Hays ZMB, the prospects for the reluctant retiring lawyer are grim. With law firms taking on more people at the junior end, partners face more pressure to take early retirement to make room for those following on.
But she adds that while the bigger firms might want the older partner out, there are smaller firms which are now beginning to think they could harness those years of experience, particularly in new areas or jurisdictions.
"No one has bitten the bullet on that yet, but the debate is very, very active," argues Smyth. "Bringing in a very junior partner is easy, but paying for someone in their mid-40s is very expensive, so someone with experience who is grateful to have been given another chance, and so will give 110 per cent, is very attractive. What else do [retired partners] tend to do? Drop off the face of the earth."
The trouble, says Smyth, is that lawyers get boxed. The value that today's younger lawyers will have as true commercial advisers is not generally present in those lawyers facing retirement today, so they are not the obvious choices for non-executive positions. Charles Allen-Jones, Bill Tudor John and Bill Knight - who are all featured here - and Giles Henderson - who chose not to talk about his post-retirement position as Master of Pembroke College, Oxford - have all done well in finding post-retirement positions, they were also all senior partners with high profiles and their firms' entire portfolios of clients to approach.
|BILL KNIGHT, EX-SIMMONS & SIMMONS SENIOR PARTNER|
When we meet, Bill Knight is sitting in an Islington café in the very early afternoon, drinking a beer and looking like a schoolboy playing truant. The week before, he had been in front of a class of secondary school girls teaching the periodic table, a far cry from his role as senior partner for Simmons & Simmons, which he relinquished just last year. "The last time I did any chemistry was 1961," he laughs, before explaining that the lesson was part of the work that he does for a charity called Common Purpose, which is aimed at teaching people to become better citizens. You spend a day in prison, one in schools and one in the media, and learn about how life works outside your own narrow sphere," he explains. Still, Knight knows a lot about schools given that he is the governor of two and is now able to devote more time to them.
But as most lawyers in commercial practices will have been able to build themselves a good pension, what is the problem with just pottering about in the garden? Well, according to Robin Linnecar, director at the Change Partnership, lawyers are unfortunately not too good at adjusting to the idea of retirement. His company works with 10 firms within the top 30, including recent recruit Allen & Overy, to provide counselling and advice to those getting closer to gold watch time. The problem for many partners is how to start the wind-down towards retirement, which will enable them to build up a life outside the office without spending their time twiddling their thumbs because no one wants to give them anything important to do.
"The primary problem is the change of pace," says Linnecar. "People become incredibly fearful of what they'll do, thinking, 'I've never done anything else; what's it like out there?'"
He believes that this is partly because people traditionally stayed with the same law firm, which then takes over the running of your life. People become passive, even moving to another country at the bequest of the firm. As Linnecar says, they are driven by their careers rather than driving them.
The message to all those planning to retire is that the sooner you start thinking about it the more enjoyable it will be. Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, says the problem for lawyers is that the hours they work during their careers do not allow for an outside life, so when retirement comes there is nothing left.
|BILL TUDOR JOHN, EX_ALLEN & OVERY SENIOR PARTNER|
While Bill Tudor John might have physically moved on from Allen & Overy (A&O), the law firm where he was senior partner has obviously stayed with him. On the walls of his Lehman Brothers office, together with pictures of his family, rugby greats and landscapes, are pictures of the sweeping curves of the A&O New Change offices.
"If you want to retire at 55," says Cooper, "you need to start at 52 or 53, shedding some of your clients or cases to enable you to build up other things that you want to do. But there are a lot of law firms that cannot cope with that."
But Linnecar counters that, although it can be difficult to raise the subject with management and clients, clients often understand and will make allowances for the deal to be completed in the morning rather than that night.
For many, says Cooper, it is important to find something to do which allows the lawyer to retain a certain amount of status, as many professionals need to feel important. So taking on a non-executive position or sitting on the board of a local hospital can help them feel as if they are still able to make an important contribution.
As to what to expect when you finally clear your desk and go, Cooper says there are three stages. The first is a great psychological relief that the day-to-day pressure is off your back. Then the second comes when all the jobs you had planned are done and a kind of depression descends. You start questioning how you are perceived or even whether you are noticed anymore, now that you are no longer actively involved. This is the stage that can only be got through with adequate planning, says Cooper, otherwise there is a risk that you will go into the third stage, which consists of a deeper, clinical depression.
"The key thing," concludes Linnecar, "is to know yourself. That sounds very theoretical and oozy woozy, but you have to ask yourself, 'Are you building a real life or are you building yourself a technical life? Are you looking at a real balance?'"
Both Cooper and Linnecar say that women find the process easier, but each posits different reasons for this. Cooper argues that, as women spend their careers juggling home and work, the prospect of dropping one of the balls is not such a great problem, while Linnecar thinks the transition is easier because, on the whole, they are more willing to talk about it.
So all that remains is for you to leave the office, buy an easel, a set of golf clubs or even a unicycle, and find yourself a life. It will come in handy later.
|CHARLES ALLEN-JONES, EX-LINKLATERS SENIOR PARTNER|
Charles Allen-Jones retired last September at the age of 62 after an astonishing 33 years as a Linklaters partner and winding up his career as the firm's senior partner.
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