When my parents retired to Florida I thought they had become a cliche. Little old people vegetating by the pool, complaining of their arthritis, driving 35 mph in the fast lane down Interstate 95 with heads barely reaching above the steering wheel—or as Richard Dreyfuss so aptly put it in a recent film: they had become “the pre-dead.”
I was determined not to become a member of that tribe. First, I was never going to retire. Second, I was never going further south than Washington, D.C. Well, I made good on number one. I did not, nor will I ever, voluntarily retire. I just changed jobs, reinventing myself all along the way. Number two is another story altogether. When we inherited the dreaded Florida apartment, our first thought was, “Yikes, if we go down there, we’ll be the ‘pre-dead’ too!”
So, initially, we rented the apartment and tried to pretend Florida never existed, “hanging chads” and all. This was fairly easy to do since I was still a judge and the rent covered most of our carrying expenses. However, once I left the bench for private ADR practice at The Dispute Resolution Institute, and had a few extra dollars, things got a little murkier. We had several really long winters with lots of snow, sleet and ice and temperatures hovering near the zero mark. Shivering in the frigid air, I began to wonder why two strangers were lounging around my pool in 80-degree weather while I was here freezing my tootsies off.
“What is wrong with this picture?” I thought.
“You’re not in it,” I finally had to admit.
And, then it finally came to me. Life is not black and white, retirement versus continuing a professional career. I did not have to make the awful choice of giving up the profession I loved for the lifestyle I realized I might learn to love. If l planned carefully, maybe, just maybe, I could have both.
While I was sitting on the bench, I couldn’t just announce I was going out of town, and I would conduct that discovery hearing by conference call or, God forbid, on FaceTime. But as a discovery master, maybe I could. As a mediator, would it be any different to prepare the case sitting on my deck by the water as opposed to sitting at my desk facing Comcast? There seemed to be a clear-cut answer to those questions. Let’s find out.
My husband, Bill—who was already happily semi-retired—and I put our heads together and came up with a plan two years ago.
I would block out two weeks in Florida and two weeks back in Philadelphia between Jan. 1 and March 31. I would aim to schedule my mediations and arbitrations for the two weeks I was in town. I would ask for all the memoranda and documentary evidence to be electronically sent to me in Florida and Bill would print it all out on our newly purchased printer. Then I would do the preparation in Florida.
The question became, where would I keep my office supplies and where would I do my preparation since the apartment had limited space. There was, however, a roomy entertainment area with a low bar and small wicker arm chairs. With a little rearranging, I could convert the bar to a desk and the shelves of glasses and plates could be replaced with file folders, paper clips, rubber bands, pens and other office paraphernalia. A little less partying is a small price to pay.
The trial consults, expert witness collaborations and discovery masterships were easier to calendar. Once again, materials could be electronically sent or overnighted if clients were reluctant to use email. Hearings and meetings could be scheduled by conference calls or FaceTime (and I now have done both). Last-minute documents could be faxed or emailed even while the conference call was taking place.
Of course, planning on paper is the easy part, making it a reality, not so easy. What if clients are adamant on an event taking place on a certain date and on that certain date I was scheduled to be in Florida? Well, I made a deal with Bill. If a client insisted on a date when I was out of town, I would simply come back. It was, after all, only a two and a half hour plane ride.
So, on Jan. 1, 2018, we set our plan in motion. I had scheduled mediations, arbitrations and consults for those Philadelphia weeks and carefully planned out my work schedule during the Florida weeks. Up early every morning (or reasonably early for me) and no pool or exercise time until all that day’s assignments were completed. All texts, emails and phone calls promptly returned. Every day’s schedule carefully planned out and recorded.
What about organizational meetings? I am on the Board of Governors of the Philadelphia Bar Association, president of the Temple Law Alumni Association and an active member of The Brandeis Law Society and the Temple American Inn of Court. Well, to my surprise, most organizations have call-in numbers and emailed agendas. The tricky part is entering them on the calendar and remembering to check the calendar every morning as the times are not under your control. What about out of sight being out of mind? Well, I became a more active member of LinkedIn and Facebook than ever before, interacting with the legal community on social media and, my LinkedIn percentages are actually higher than they were before 2018.
This is only our second year on the bifurcated schedule but things are working out reasonably well. Did I have to return to Philadelphia in between regularly scheduled visits? Yes, but not that often. In 2018, I returned once for four days to preside at two weddings and conduct two mediations. And, in 2019, I also returned once for five days to conduct one arbitration and two mediations. Unfortunately, for me, one was on a Friday and the other two were Monday and Tuesday. But, the inconvenience was minor compared to the benefits. And, I even got to see our twin grandsons on the weekend.
I recognize that not every one of us has flexibility to set her own schedule or the stamina to keep organized and in constant motion. But, if you can, it is well worth the trouble. Life has been more invigorating for me these last two years and, I believe, the change of pace has made me sharper and better at my craft than ever before (at least my settlement rate seems to reflect that).
Our past is gone and our future is unpredictable. The only time we really have is now. My message is, make the most of it!
Sandra Mazer Moss, retired, served on the bench as a trial judge, judicial team leader, and most notably, was the founder and first supervising judge of the Complex Litigation Center. She now works as a distinguished neutral for The Dispute Resolution Institute.