Mark Dubois
Mark Dubois ()

The only hair I have remaining has turned from grey to white. I tried giving up drinking in the hope that I would feel better in the morning. Now I can’t blame a hangover for the fact that I hurt somewhere when I wake up every day, but I still do. I have had to replace most of my doctors with younger folks. I find myself asking much younger lawyers if they remember when something or other happened, and then realizing that it probably happened before they were born. In other words, I have much less to live than I have lived. And I’m not alone.

A lot has been written about us Baby Boomers and the havoc we are going to wreak on society when we lurch into retirement. Lawyers are no different from other professionals except that it seems that fewer of us have prepared for the inevitable. As a result, I and my colleagues who tend to the problems of the profession spend a lot of time counselling on the issues related to easing out of practice and into the next act.

One of the biggest problems is dealing with the long tail that follows a successful practice. Though the rules require us to keep closed files only for seven years, and then only certain parts of them, most lawyers of a certain age have many, many more years than that worth of closed matters in the back room, basement or barn. What parts should be returned to the client? What can be safely shredded? What should be kept, and for how long? How do I make sure someone knows where I am and where my old files are? What other business records should I preserve? Can I practice part-time or should I make a clean break of it? When can I safely let my malpractice insurance lapse?

The easiest way to handle these issues is to bring in a young(er) lawyer to buy or inherit the practice. Considering the number of un- and under-employed new lawyers out there, I’m surprised that more lawyers on both sides of the age divide don’t explore this option. As I said, most of my doctors are now new and younger practitioners, many of whom were brought into existing practices. I’m surprised that this is not more common in legal services.

I think that one of the problems may be that clients age along with their lawyers. Senior clients don’t have as many or the same kinds of problems as younger ones. Unless you want to do estate administration, maybe there’s no market in these folks and their legal needs.

Also, the ubiquity of advertising and intense competition may have eroded the old notion of loyalty. If someone needs a lawyer, he or she just Googles the problem, and within a fraction of a second, many can be found. Taking over an established but aging practice may be more of a burden than a boon. There’s no guarantee that the clients are going to stay with the practice.

There are few institutional supports for aging lawyers. I remember getting calls from senior lawyers when I was chief disciplinary counsel asking me to appoint a trustee to take over their practice and wind it down. I had to explain that trustees are few and far between, and are used only when a lawyer dies unexpectedly, disappears, or is disabled or involuntarily sidelined due to a disciplinary problem. No one from the “bar association” is going to inventory all the wills, deeds, and other detritus left behind.

There are some funny stories about trustees. In one case, a trustee took over a dead lawyer’s matters only to discover the ashes of several dead clients. When he later died, the successor trustee got them. We never could figure out what to do with them. For all I know, he still has them.

Recently, a trustee turned a box of a disabled lawyer’s records to bar counsel for auditing. A call later came in that the lawyer’s false teeth glue was in the box, if he needed it back.

The Connecticut Bar Association has a nice handbook and some checklists to assist lawyers thinking about winding down their practices in doing it the right way. It doesn’t answer all the questions, but is a good place to start. It’s called “The Path Out.” Maybe they should amend it to cover client ashes and false teeth.•

The only hair I have remaining has turned from grey to white. I tried giving up drinking in the hope that I would feel better in the morning. Now I can’t blame a hangover for the fact that I hurt somewhere when I wake up every day, but I still do. I have had to replace most of my doctors with younger folks. I find myself asking much younger lawyers if they remember when something or other happened, and then realizing that it probably happened before they were born. In other words, I have much less to live than I have lived. And I’m not alone.

A lot has been written about us Baby Boomers and the havoc we are going to wreak on society when we lurch into retirement. Lawyers are no different from other professionals except that it seems that fewer of us have prepared for the inevitable. As a result, I and my colleagues who tend to the problems of the profession spend a lot of time counselling on the issues related to easing out of practice and into the next act.

One of the biggest problems is dealing with the long tail that follows a successful practice. Though the rules require us to keep closed files only for seven years, and then only certain parts of them, most lawyers of a certain age have many, many more years than that worth of closed matters in the back room, basement or barn. What parts should be returned to the client? What can be safely shredded? What should be kept, and for how long? How do I make sure someone knows where I am and where my old files are? What other business records should I preserve? Can I practice part-time or should I make a clean break of it? When can I safely let my malpractice insurance lapse?

The easiest way to handle these issues is to bring in a young(er) lawyer to buy or inherit the practice. Considering the number of un- and under-employed new lawyers out there, I’m surprised that more lawyers on both sides of the age divide don’t explore this option. As I said, most of my doctors are now new and younger practitioners, many of whom were brought into existing practices. I’m surprised that this is not more common in legal services.

I think that one of the problems may be that clients age along with their lawyers. Senior clients don’t have as many or the same kinds of problems as younger ones. Unless you want to do estate administration, maybe there’s no market in these folks and their legal needs.

Also, the ubiquity of advertising and intense competition may have eroded the old notion of loyalty. If someone needs a lawyer, he or she just Googles the problem, and within a fraction of a second, many can be found. Taking over an established but aging practice may be more of a burden than a boon. There’s no guarantee that the clients are going to stay with the practice.

There are few institutional supports for aging lawyers. I remember getting calls from senior lawyers when I was chief disciplinary counsel asking me to appoint a trustee to take over their practice and wind it down. I had to explain that trustees are few and far between, and are used only when a lawyer dies unexpectedly, disappears, or is disabled or involuntarily sidelined due to a disciplinary problem. No one from the “bar association” is going to inventory all the wills, deeds, and other detritus left behind.

There are some funny stories about trustees. In one case, a trustee took over a dead lawyer’s matters only to discover the ashes of several dead clients. When he later died, the successor trustee got them. We never could figure out what to do with them. For all I know, he still has them.

Recently, a trustee turned a box of a disabled lawyer’s records to bar counsel for auditing. A call later came in that the lawyer’s false teeth glue was in the box, if he needed it back.

The Connecticut Bar Association has a nice handbook and some checklists to assist lawyers thinking about winding down their practices in doing it the right way. It doesn’t answer all the questions, but is a good place to start. It’s called “The Path Out.” Maybe they should amend it to cover client ashes and false teeth.•