This Time It’s For Real – There Is One Fewer Lawyer In The World

Something over a year ago I wrote about my retirement – from doing my own plumbing work in my home. That life change has been going well (even if it has turned out to be somewhat more costly than I had imagined at the time.) Now, however, the “R” word can be used again. As this piece goes live, I expect that it will be on my last day as a practicing attorney.

Thirty-eight years. That is how long ago I was graduated from law school and began my career. It was another six months before I passed my bar exam (on the first try, thankyouverymuch) and made it official, but that six-month stretch began with me added to the firm letterhead. Albeit with an asterisk noting “Bar admission pending”. In terms of a human life, thirty-eight years is a long time – well over half of it, in my case.

The bread-and-butter of my career has involved representing the interests of property and casualty insurance companies. I have defended their policyholders in the suits brought by the lawyers in the TV commercials, have sued those whose fault has caused my companies to pay claims, and have defended those same companies in disputes over whether a given policy will cover a given loss. I was blessed to begin in an office where a couple of the attorneys branched out into additional areas, like forming and representing corporations, writing wills and handling estates and guardianships, and the basics of contracts, real estate and workers comp. That exposure gave me what my current firm has described as a fearlessness in taking on the “weird stuff” that exists outside of their more tightly-focused insurance work.

Lots of attorneys practice in careers that span forty, fifty or more years. This is not illogical, as it is a profession that does not require much in the way of physical strength or agility, and has traditionally rewarded the older guys who have made the firm’s rain over many years. I, however, have chosen to stop now.

All my life, I have heard people say “when you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.” An old lawyer I once knew put it another way. When asked when he was going to retire, the octogenarian attorney replied “They tell me that when you retire you get to do what you want to do – so I guess I AM retired.” Frankly, I have always been a little jealous of those who can (honestly) say those things, because that was never my experience.

There have been parts of what I do that I have found extremely rewarding. Like the time I was given what appeared to be a garden-variety hit and run suit and dug deeply enough to uncover a reasonably well planned attempt at insurance fraud. When it resulted in my client paying zero and also getting a large judgment against the would-be claimant, I felt a deep sense of purpose and accomplishment. Even better was the time a young secretary who worked for a client learned that the car she thought was new when she bought it had actually been wrecked and repaired. Reaching a settlement that resulted in the selling dealer paying off her car note (on a car that had been repaired quite well and which she really liked) gave me a sense of satisfaction that lingers all these years later.

But in recent years I have come to a place where those kinds of satisfying wins have not been enough to overcome the unpleasantness and stress that cannot be avoided. For example, there was a time when two seasoned attorneys could get on the phone and help bring their clients to a fair resolution despite the clients’ anger and hostility. Those opportunities still exist, but they have become relatively rare as too many younger attorneys brandish a “my client is right and your client is wrong” mentality that turns everything into a street fight.

I will also confess that I might have done better over the years if I had been more of a “people person”. As an introverted guy, I have always been able to deal with others, but it can be really tiring. It is worse when those interactions are adversarial. In the world I inhabit, there are countless obstacles to getting what I would like to get for my clients. Climbing over, around or through those obstacles can be exhausting.

But the big thing is the way big business has taken over the practice of law. My field has become almost totally controlled by corporate interests in a way that is far different from the way it was in the 1980’s. On a personal level, the individuals I have worked with at these companies have been great people, and I have built long-term relationships with many of them over the years. Unfortunately, they work within systems that demand efficiency and low cost above almost everything else. There is nothing wrong with efficiency, and we all like to save a buck when we hire someone. However, decades of squeezing “inefficiencies” out of the process has resulted in complex and adversarial billing structures that result in too many hours spent jousting over financial and management issues and not enough hours spent actually representing clients.

This is probably the reason that virtually every large or mid-sized firm of my experience has stopped doing the kind of work that is my current firm’s specialty. I don’t think this trajectory is unique to law. In my experience, this has been a process that has affected almost every career in our modern world. “Faster” and “Cheaper” have become the touchstones of the last quarter century. The consultant class will tell us that “Better” is part of that milieu, but most of us have plenty of personal experience that tells us this is not true.

I made the decision to call it quits within the last couple of months, after the levels of frustration and unhappiness have grown to outweigh the good stuff that would keep me at my desk. From the moment that I mentally committed to this change, I cannot express the shift in my overall attitude. The last month or so has been hectic as I try to pass files to others and finish projects I had committed to doing, but I now leave in the evening without that leaden weight on my chest that made me wonder every day “how are you going to do this for another several years.”

My father suffered a couple of heart attacks (the first at age 46 and the second at 56) and was dead just before his 66th birthday. I think I inherited a better set of genes than he did, but I know that too much stress will win a knife-fight against good genes almost any time. I have felt my stress level plummet in the last few weeks, knowing that there is a hard end-date to the stuff I have had increasing difficulty in tolerating.

What is next? There is a plan. A few with whom I have had personal contact know what it is, and there will be more written about that in this space as that plan is put into place and gets some traction. Whether I call it a retirement job, a bridge to retirement or even a second career is yet to be seen.

My current office has told me more than once that I think in non-typical ways. I have realized that thinking outside of the box is of limited value if I am unable to escape the confines of that box in living my daily life. My next gig will fix this. So, today we call a hard stop to a thirty-eight year adventure in law, and on Monday morning I begin a new adventure. And it is one I am really excited about.

48 thoughts on “This Time It’s For Real – There Is One Fewer Lawyer In The World

    • I have been feeling that renewed energy already. At least in those times when I am not trying to get the last things done.

      I remember seeing signs on peoples’ desks years ago that said something like “They say we all have a certain amount of things to do in life. The way things are going, I may never die.” I am feeling a bit like that in the last few days. But the good news is that at the end of today I will get to leave. I hope.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Congrats! As a commercial and advertising photographer, I thought I’d never retire and knew people older than I am now doing productive work and in demand at the beginning of my career. I never imagined that ageism would be such a reality, and that I would basically be forced into retirement before I wanted to do it, and with far less assets than I felt I would need. Having said that, you cannot imagine the luxury of the non-productive life! I hope to do whatever it takes to never work another day in my life. There are days I do nothing but walk around my neighborhood, petting all the local dogs, and then go home and read library books. I’ve never been happier. I hope I can keep up that rigorous schedule the rest of my life!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, that sounds like the kind of schedule I could get used to. Unfortunately, I am not going to start that life of leisure just yet. I have found a place where my age should not be a problem and that looks like the kind of thing I have always kind of wanted to do. Plus, I am not yet 65 so need insurance for another year-plus. Details will follow in the coming weeks.


  2. Congratulations!

    A while back I was chatting with a coworker who was about to retire. They said the prospect was daunting as it was, in a way, like reentering the dating pool after a long marriage. You obviously don’t have that apprehension so you’ve already overcome a big obstacle.

    When we lived in Cape Girardeau, there was a newspaper article about a Mr. Limbaugh (his grandson had a job in radio), who lived there and was still a practicing attorney at age 102 or some such. It’s crossed my mind a time or two if there was a Mr. Cavanaugh who might eventually do similarly. It’s good to see you won’t be.

    Best of luck in your new chapter. It will be great to hear and learn more about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! One attorney I chatted with said you know you’re ready to retire when you have enough and when you’ve had enough. I am probably not really there on the first one, but more than make up for it with the second.


    • About 15 years ago, I dealt with an attorney at work who represented a commercial property owner. He seemed old to me, so I looked him up on a legal research site, and found that he received his law degree in 1938. He was in his mid 90s at the time, and was remarkably mentally agile.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I had a similar experience with a metallurgist we hired as an expert in a case. A wheel came off a large pickup truck and caused an accident. The issue was whether the failure was due to cross-threaded or over-tightened lug nuts following service at the dealer. This was probably in the early 2000s and I was surprised when I met with the guy to prepare for his deposition. He was in his 90s and had started his career working for International Harvester in maybe 1930 or so, back when that company had been one of the biggest industrial organizations in the world. He was really impressive in his command of metallurgy and it was amazing to listen to someone who had learned the field so long ago.


  3. Wow, congratulations. You’re a few years ahead of me on that curve, but my industry and my employer have changed so much I’m having similar thoughts. Whereas twenty years ago my challenge was to balance the budge while solving technical challenges and working with actual equipment, my challenge now is to grind through emails while other silos in other parts of the world deal with engineering, finance, and equipment installation.

    But you’re also a few years ahead of me on what to do next. I’m at a loss for ideas, but thinking about it on the commute this morning I thought you’d make a fine service advisor at a Honda dealership. You know cars, and sometimes I think those people need a law degree for dealing with difficult customers. At any rate I too am looking forward to finding out about your next chapter.

    And I also suggest rewarding yourself for reaching this milestone. You and Marianne should take that Ireland trip or something. Or come to Niagara, I’ll buy you dinner. It’s the least I can do for a poor pensioner (as my grandfather liked to call himself).



    • DougD, I know you mean well,but as a retired service advisor of 32 years(10 at a Honda store),I would bet that the stress level of being an attorney is far less than being a service advisor!

      Liked by 1 person

      • KennP, I don’t doubt you. You guys are kind of like going to the dentist – nobody wants to do it, but we all recognize that we have to. At least the dentist involves physical health, while most people don’t care much about a car until something goes wrong with it. I have always imagined that there is a lot of grief counseling in your job (though perhaps not as much as if you worked for a GM or Ford dealer) and a lot of customer anger at costs or with problems that cannot be found. I am not enough of a “people person” to want to take on that role.

        Although I might be able to make it at a Mercedes dealer. Years ago (probably the mid 80s) we had a wealthy client who was a self-made guy. He bought his wife a big Mercedes. He told us how he took the car in for service and started questioning the many expensive service tasks, and the service guy got exasperated with him and told him (in a German accent) “You do not deserve this car!”. THAT is the kind of service advisor I could be. 🙂


    • Well, once I start my new phase I may have an idea for that post retirement career.

      And FWIW, retirement prep is like any other day at the office in that I will be in again tomorrow to try to finish what I should have completed today.


    • Haha, Marianne and I just watched that movie in the last couple of weeks. One of my favorites!!

      I think I’ll donate the suits to the yoots. 🙂


      • I think you could easily compose a book and become a published author. You have already written many chapters of your life story, including that which involved vehicles. I say compose, because you have already spent countless hours doing the writing part.
        Congratulations on pulling down your shingle!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I have thought about writing something and have had a few ideas rolling around in my head. However, I am still young enough that I need access to some kind of employer-provided insurance for a while yet. And maybe my new gig will give me more ideas for such a project.


  4. Well congratulations on retirement from one thing and entry into another! Hope blogging is up there on your list of things to do.
    My husband retired after a heart attack – and the discovery that the companies promise to bring him home to Canada (from his overseas assignment) didn’t actually include a job in Canada. Fortunately he had many interests and has successfully made the transition from working for a paycheck to getting paid for not working (investments and a pension)!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope to avoid your husband’s fate – at least for awhile. I am young enough that a life of leisure is not yet an option. I once worked with a lawyer who had been in practice for a long time. He did not enjoy the last few years of it very much, and remarked more than once that “nobody should have to do the same thing for over 35 years”. But he kept at it because it was what he knew and because he couldn’t really see a way to start something else at his age (and with some health issues). His words stuck with me and I decided to make a big course change. More to come on that.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Wonderful news – congratulations!

    Margaret and I increasingly talk about an early retirement, if at all possible. EVERYTHING’s become more stressful in recent years, and the stress is wearing on both of us in immeasurable ways. I’m glad when I hear of folks who are able to retire and then do something that they actually enjoy – can’t wait to hear what your next chapter is.

    On a tangential topic, I had an interesting law-related experience this week: I visited the US Supreme Court and was able to sit in on a (non-argument) session. It was impressive on many different levels (such as just being in the court chamber), but I found it incredible to see and hear the justices in person. Very unique experience that I’m unlikely to ever do again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I always kind of wanted to sit in on a Supreme Court session, but have never had (or maybe made) the opportunity. That sounds really cool. Your first observation is playing into a theory of mine, which is that for almost my entire adult life the primary goal of our economic system has been efficiency. That goal paid benefits to a large percentage of the working public in the earlier part of that arc, but we have reached the point where that is no longer true. Now the benefits go to a really small group while those of us outside of that group make do with poor service and stressful jobs.


      • I happened to stumble onto this opportunity to attend the Supreme Court session – ordinarily it’s very tough to get in to see the Court in session. When I got there, I realized why. The Supreme Court chamber is surprisingly small – the overall seating capacity is probably just a little more than our local city council chambers. (Despite it’s compact square footage, it’s still amazingly impressive – ornate with columns & very high ceilings, etc.). And even for a non-lawyer like myself, the whole thing was a fascinating experience.

        Your comment that “Now the benefits go to a really small group while those of us outside of that group make do with poor service and stressful jobs” is 100% true in my experience. I think part of the stress now in everyday life is attributable to what’s quickly becoming a two-class society, not unlike the Gilded Age in many respects. This is very apparent here in the DC metro area – a small number of people who work in consulting or lobbying industries live like royalty, and everyone else gets the dregs left over. Not just in terms of salary, but in the overall attitude of our society, including public policy). And that’s a big reason why my wife and I are eager to bow out of the workforce and move elsewhere. I feel terrible for our younger generations.

        I’m straying a bit too far off course here – I hope you’re enjoying your first weekend of retirement!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ll bet the effect you describe is much more pronounced in the DC area than it is in a larger city in the Midwest as I experience it.

        And for the record, my “first weekend of retirement” started at about 8pm last night, when I got home from my final day in the office (which was one more day after what I had planned to be my final day at the office.) And yes, I am really enjoying it. 🙂


    • Thanks Kathy! I will try really hard to do that! Although you probably know that my ways of finding enjoyment can sometimes leave others scratching their heads. 🙂


  6. Congratulations on the beginning of a new chapter in your life! I’m sorry to hear about the challenges that have come with working as a lawyer in this day and age, so I’m glad you’re able to move on to something that will be a refreshing change of pace. It was always interesting to hear you discuss your work; and I am very thankful for the summer I got to work for you. I look forward to hearing about what you’ll do next.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Z! I too enjoyed that summer you were there. As you probably know, I love learning new things and am starting that process very shortly.


  7. We graduated in the same year (I’ve suspected we were close) – I just retired a little earlier than you did. The evolution of your field was an interesting, if unsurprising read. My own (initially, architecture) has seen similar impact. Suddenly contractors, builders, and even the Web itself have become “architects” in an effort to reduce costs. But none replace the licensed professional. I saw the change coming early, which is why I spent the bulk of my career elsewhere, in IT. But even IT has been reshaped in an overzealous effort to reduce costs (ex. outsourcing). As my father once did, I now appreciate “the good ol’ days” when lawyers and architects were essential players in the process.

    Congratulations, J.P. I have no doubt you’ll create a rewarding, satisfying version of retirement for yourself. Well deserved!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Dave – yes, I think we have seen mostly the same thing in our two professions.

      I have a plan in place, and I am looking forward to sharing more about it once things start moving forward.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Well congratulations JP and I am SO envious of you leaving the legal world behind and shucking the brogues and three-piece suit forever. My boss (labor lawyer for management) extended the lease through March 2024 and they will not extend it further. (He was friends with the former landlord – the new landlord is Dan Gilbert, who already owns most of the Downtown Detroit office buildings.) So, it would be nice to think that retirement is in the cards for my boss, who is 76 years old, but he says “I like the practice of law and will die with my boots on like Dad did.” (“Dad” a solo practitioner was still practicing probate law at age 83, when diabetes and kidney failure caused his death.) We’ve worked together since 2000 and moved from the Firm on our own in February 2003, but I do not want to “die with my boots on” so at age 67, I will have to do some serious soul searching as my boss does some searching for new office digs. I’ll be interested to hear about the next chapter of your life!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for the good wishes. As for your situation, I’m in your corner. Nobody likes losing a good legal secretary/assistant, but at 67 nobody can say you didn’t make a good career of it. This sounds like the kind of conversation that should happen sooner rather than later so that both of you can be planning on the same future.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree with you JP … his cronies (mostly labor lawyers/adversaries) he deals with are still practicing and I wonder if that has a lot to do with it as well. We spoke about it today as he is desperate to find a place to land before Winter as he has a lot to move. He bought a lot of artwork for this office suite which has four rooms, conference room and common area.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Congratulations on your retirement JP and good luck withyour next chapter. I’m sure whatever it is you will be great at it! Your paragraph about cheaper and faster certainly describes my career, with not much emphasis on safety or better. I enjoyed my career for the first 30 years, the last seven were difficult as the corporation culture did not align with my values. My company got bought out, we only had a week’s notice, and it was the perfect opportunity for me to exit too. I was so relieved. Now that I’ve been retired 7 years I wonder how I stood it that long.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have heard versions of your experience from so, so many people in the last several years (in addition to my own experience). I must say, that today is my first Saturday morning in decades when I have awakened without the stress of pressing things next week or next month on my mind. It is lovely!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Congratulations.

    While I enjoyed the first 2/3 of my post college career (that started in 1966) involving Grumman Aircraft and my own partnership in a small IT consulting company, the leaner, meaner atmospheres of DEC/Compaq/HP starting around 1990 were not nearly as much fun. Or interesting.

    I don’t miss that last 1/3 of working career-life-stuff at all.

    You say “Faster” and “Cheaper” have become the touchstones of the last quarter century.” but us old software coders (not codgers) used to say to customers: “Good, Fast, Cheap – pick two”. That probably works the same way in the lawyer business.

    Retirement is a joy to me and Debbie. We are both blessed to be able to enjoy it and we appreciate that to no end.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The “good, fast, cheap” thing has been a favorite saying of mine. The problem in my area of law was that the insurance industry that controls things sometimes appeared to think that it was entitled to all three. That became increasingly frustrating.


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