Monday night I attended a GRAWA event entitled “Is There Retirement on Your Horizon?” thinking that I knew what to expect when I entered the room. After all, as a former elder law attorney and medical social worker, I attended many programs addressing long-term planning and retirement issues.
Boy, was I wrong. Male and female participants sat around a large round table and were provided food and wine as they discussed a wide spectrum of issues surrounding the preparation for “retirement.” I quickly became aware that preparing for retirement in this forum meant preparing psychologically, emotionally and financially to leave the full-time practice of law in order to open a new and fulfilling chapter in life.
Three presenters were asked to discuss what led them to consider leaving their law practice and how they planned a transition to a new lifestyle and sense of identity. I was impressed by both the introspect and humor of the presenters and the attendees when discussing the deeply personal and emotional issues associated with leaving what for many has been a defining part of their lives.
All of the speakers are extremely happy in their retirement and described it as being even better than they expected. There were common themes that addressed the need to identify what a law career provided in terms of social comaraderie, intellectual stimulus and a sense of accomplishment in order to figure out how to fill the void after leaving.
Joyce Parker was the third woman to make partner at the law firm of Harris Beach PLLC, where she practiced in the areas of health services and family law. As a hand injury that would affect her ability to work worsened, Joyce became aware that she needed to prepare to leave Harris Beach and find a way to maintain her sense of self in a life that did not involve practicing law.
Admittedly a workaholic whose identity was significantly linked to being a lawyer, Joyce analyzed the personal benefits she received from working in a law firm and sought out new endeavors to provide personal fulfillment after she left. She prepared for two years for the new life she would embark on.
Much to the surprise of family and friends who could not imagine her life outside of a legal practice, Joyce describes herself as “deliriously happy” and has no desire to engage in any activity that would involve the practice of law or providing legal advice.
Since leaving her law practice in January of this year, Joyce audits classes at MCC, including Mandarin Chinese, and is a tutor with the Literacy Volunteers of Rochester. Much to her delight, Joyce has been assigned to tutor a Chinese woman who, in turn, helps her learn to speak Chinese. Joyce does utilize her legal experience to teach family law as an adjunct associate professor in the Steinberg Forensic Fellowship program of the Department of Psychiatry at University of Rochester’s School of Medicine.
Michael Schnittman worked for Lacy, Katzen, Greene and Jones, which is now Lacy Katzen LLP, before retiring in 2011. Mike discussed the importance of retiring with dignity, and having enough self-awareness to know when it is time to let go. Mike advised that it is important for us to focus on who we are and not simply what we do when preparing to leave the practice of law. Mike, too, considered what he enjoyed in his law practice before finding new ways to achieve personal fulfillment.
Since retiring, Mike has enrolled in classes through Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at RIT, and has studied such subjects as music and English. Mike misses social interaction with his colleagues and volunteers for VLSP. However, he does not miss waking up in the middle of the night because he is worried about a case. He also relishes not having a strict schedule to adhere to and uses his newfound freedom to enjoy spending time with his grandchildren. He and his wife are also free to travel and spend time at their Adirondack home. In fact, they have planned a trip to Russia this fall.
Terry Richman began law school a month before her 40th birthday and eventually became a partner at Underberg Kessler LLP where she chaired the firm’s environmental law practice. In 2005, Terry moved to Wilmington, N.C., but continued to work remotely, traveling to Rochester once a month for client meetings and appearances.
After Terry’s husband, whom she has known since she was 15 years old, unexpectedly had a quadruple bypass surgery, she decided to focus on quality time together and retired in 2009. Terry has found a supportive social network in her new home, and advises people who are contemplating a move to a different area to consider their lifestyle and the culture of the new area before making a final decision. Terry stays busy and has developed many new friendships by taking art classes and serving on several boards, including a public radio station that she helped financially turn around.
Of course, financial security is essential to any successful retirement plan. Nannette Nocon, a financial adviser and planner at Nocon & Associates, a private wealth advisory practice of Ameriprise Financial Services Inc., spoke about “Building a Confident Retirement.”
She discussed such issues as building on essentials, ensuring a lifestyle, preparing for the unexpected and leaving a legacy. After being in business for 28 years and managing $300 million in assets, Nanette has developed a comprehensive approach to helping clients create a plan to meet their goals and objectives in retirement.
Not surprisingly, all three presenters expressed the need to financially prepare before leaving their law practice. In fact, both Joyce and Mike were the primary financial providers for their families, and Terry’s husband retired earlier than expected. Moreover, all three of the presenters experienced unexpected events that affected their financial plan.
Whether it was an unexpected medical issue or a home improvement project that ballooned into a major renovation, financial planning was essential and Nanette’s comprehensive approach to planning for retirement was right in step with the experiences of the presenters.
A mentally stimulating and socially fulfilling life after the practice of law may involve different plans for different people. But a successful plan requires introspect, and I underestimated the importance of sharing experiences and ideas to help prepare for the next phase of our lives — not the last.
My hat is off to GRAWA’s program chairs, Meghan Lynch and Elaine Cole, an active retiree herself, for putting this program together.
Kimberly Duguay is the 30th president of the Greater Rochester Association for Women Attorneys and an appellate attorney at the Monroe County Public Defender Office, where she practices in the areas of criminal and family law.