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.
The biggest project he has taken on for the beginning of his retirement, however, is the London Weighting Advisory Panel. This is a body set up by London's mayor Ken Livingstone to find out whether the concept of weighting, to cover the extra cost of living in London, still exists within the capital, and if so whether it is sufficient. It has just been officially launched and is now in a period of consultation and discussions, aiming to issue its report into the subject by the summer.
His role as chair of the panel, which includes union representatives, councillors and businesspeople, has, he says, helped to fill the gap in his life left by Simmons.
“I'm still adjusting to not being at Simmons & Simmons, but getting over it. If it wasn't for the London Weighting Panel and Lloyd's [where he is a director], I'd miss the intellectual stimulation. You just miss the people and the daily interaction of some very talented people,” he admits.
When we spoke, he was considering whether to take on another board position in the regulatory arena. Otherwise, at his wife's suggestion, he is doing a cookery course – nothing fancy, but enough so that he can become reacquainted with the larder.
He has also just returned from St Petersburg. “My wife's writing a book about her Russian grandmother and wrote to the KGB about her grandmother's brother,” he explains. “They replied that they'd shot him in the 30s but pardoned him in the 80s; but they also told us where they sent the pardon to, so we visited the family.”
Looking back at his career, Knight says that he enjoyed the variety, which he fears is just not possible today for young lawyers pushed towards specialisation.
“Everything changed in the 80s,” he argues. “The hours got harder and the money got bigger, and the change in the tax rates changed lots of things.”
Knight believes that the nature of working life was changed by the Conservatives scrapping the high tax rates that existed in the 1970s. When the top rate of tax was 83 per cent, it was not worth moving jobs for even a relatively good pay increase, because most of it would disappear in tax. Thus, there was more stability in the marketplace.
As for Knight, however, he spent his entire career at Simmons because he liked the people and that was the done thing for his generation. When he joined, there were only eight partners; now there are 156.
In his retirement, however, Knight is enjoying broadening his horizons.”That's what you struggle with after the law,” he says. “People think of you as a lawyer and you accept that really it's quite important to broaden your vision and respect that other people have a completely different way of thinking.”
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.
Tudor John started at the investment bank in November 2000, after 33 years at A&O. He left after losing the senior partner position to Guy Beringer. “I had the choice of staying on at A&O,” he mused, “but it would have been quite difficult having been a general to go back into the ranks.”
He decided instead to retire from the law, but not from work. “I'm a really boring person, I actually like work,” he laughs. “I'd clutter up the house and my wife didn't want me at home. I don't like gardening and I'm useless at DIY – I wouldn't have enjoyed it at all.”
On quitting A&O, Tudor John received 27 offers of alternative employment, including two senior partnerships, one of which was to run the legal arm of a major firm of accountants. In the end, he plumped to become managing director and chair of the European commitment committee at Lehmans.
“I'm treated with huge respect here, far more than I ever had at my own law firm,” Tudor John says, adding that moving to another law firm would have been like driving a Ford after always being behind the wheel of a Rolls Royce.
He does have regrets about leaving A&O, because he had not completed everything he wanted to do. His 'to-do list' included: building up the firm's US presence, which it has since started to do; building up mainland Europe, which it is now in the process of doing; and managing the move into new accommodation, which is still at the planning stage.
His five-year contract at Lehmans has just under three years to run, which will keep him at the bank until he is 59.
But at the moment Tudor John intends to work on for as long as he feels healthy or until his wife decides that “she wants to go to New Zealand for three months”.
As for missing the legal life, he says: “There's nothing I miss about working in a law firm – a few of the people, but that's all.”
“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.
While retirement will inevitably mean his life slows down somewhat, Allen-Jones is not the type to stop completely. However, it will allow him to spend more time in his beloved Far East. He first grew to love the area when he set up Linklaters' office in Hong Kong. The six years he subsequently spent out there he regards as the most enjoyable time of his life.
But while he spent the first couple of months of his retirement travelling, it was then back to London to sort out his non-office life. “The office gets completely on top of you,” explains Allen-Jones. “And when you come to retirement, your life needs sorting out.”
His high profile at Linklaters brought him to the attention of the British Museum, which approached him about becoming a trustee.
“The British Museum will give me a great deal of interest and scope,” he says. “They like to have a barrister or a solicitor on the board and Sir Matthew Farrer's [former senior partner at Farrers] term of office expires soon.”
The Oriental department, of which Allen-Jones will become trustee, runs a diploma course, which he has enrolled on to study decorative arts.
As if all that was not enough to keep him out of mischief, he has signed up to a non-executive position with Hong Kong Land Holdings, a company that he had dealings with when he was at Linklaters. Otherwise, Allen-Jones plans to improve his golf and spend some time in the garden. “But first,” he says, “I have to learn to live without the office support and learn to use a computer properly.”
But does Allen-Jones actually want to retire? “The answer is no and yes,” he replies after a pause. “No, because I've always enjoyed Linklaters enormously, so had no desire to retire. But there's a right time to do this. I always said that I was going to do one term as senior partner. I'm 62, and the idea of going back into practice never occurred to me, so it's the right time to retire.”
Linklaters has changed almost beyond recognition since Allen-Jones joined the firm. “Up until 1967 a law firm could only have 20 partners, so obviously there wasn't that many of us,” he reflects. “You were brought up to be much more generalist and there were much closer similarities between the various London law firms.”
Because client care was not as developed as it is today, Allen-Jones says that life for lawyers was easier, as there was not the expectation of service around the clock. Weekend meetings and all-nighters were simply unheard of.
“One great thing is that the transactions have got so huge that you have teams of lawyers on them, so one young lawyer is likely to play a very small part in a big transaction,” comments Allen-Jones.
So, as Allen-Jones looks back on his extensive career, does he have any regrets?
“I can't imagine the possibility of having a more enjoyable career. I think the people are intelligent and decent and I think that they are relatively unpolitical. The idea of me moving from Linklaters to an executive position would be sad, but to move to go out on the golf course forever would be even sadder,” he concludes.