A FORK IN THE ROAD...
Afew years ago I was on a panel comprised of mid- to late-career women and men who were addressing career choices for third- and fourth-year students at one of my daughters’ liberal arts colleges. One bit of advice
I had for these bright, young, and eager undergrads was to
be decisive —to follow their passions and to not be overly
wedded to a long-term career outcome, especially if the direc-
tion was based on their parents’ expectations, and not their
own desires, talents, and means. I encouraged them to pick a
career that they found on their own, to remain open to other
paths, and to not fear a fork in the road. Forks in the road (as
well as roadblocks) can come out of nowhere, and charting a
new course is fine. In other words, finding your way through
life can properly include some level of trial and
error. Nothing is a mistake if you learn from
it. The essence of life itself is the ability to
successfully change and adapt.
Many of us in the legal profession
are nearing the end of our careers.
Our paths may be nearing their
ends or we may feel like they
are no longer leading forward.
Some of us may be tired, some
of us may be facing physical or
mental health issues, and some
have experienced changes in
our families. In my case, I had a
pair of discoveries: first, a feeling
that I had explored my own path long
enough and second, recognition that
now, in my mid-60s, my time to follow any
other path was finite and its duration unknow-
able. I realized life could hold other rich experiences
and opportunities, and if I didn’t act to explore them soon, I
might not get a chance. But could I change?
Being a practicing lawyer is, for many of us, an all-encom-passing avocation. By training and instinct we strive to serve
our clients’ needs. Lawyering is not a profession easily left
at the office and the mental process of legal analysis, drilled
into us in law school and indispensable in our practices, can
be a pervasive presence. For small-firm practitioners like me,
the daily task of owning and operating a small business is
layered on top of the professional responsibilities. I suspect
(but have not experienced this directly) that the responsibilities of working in a larger firm are equally demanding of our
hearts and our time. So, even if we feel ready for change, see
its potential advantages, and recognize that it’s due to occur,
actually making the change is very hard. Walking away from a
career-imposed lifestyle to which our identity and self-worth
is tied, is tough.
And then there is money . . . giving up the income from
a practice is risky and, as Jim Morrison reminds us, “the
future’s uncertain.” What is my budget? How will my needs
or my spouse’s needs change? How do I want to live out my
years? How long will I live? Answering these questions with
the precision we have come to expect of ourselves is difficult,
so our inherently conservative nature makes it hard to feel we
are financially ready.
All these questions have swirled around my wife/law
partner and me for years. We’ve talked about our future and
what to do with our practice—bring in a young associate/
heir, form a larger partnership with local lawyers, form an
alliance and integrate with lawyers from outside the com-
munity, simply close the doors and refer all the clients out?
All the options had perceived drawbacks and it was easy to
be too busy to figure it out. As the fact of mortality became © G