In one hundred days, at age fifty-six, I’ll be leaving my law practice for retirement. It still feels unreal; even as it’s this close. I expect in actuality it will be fantastic; but I cannot gauge the impact retiring from my law practice will have on my psyche.
How can one begin to imagine the effects of that kind of freedom? After all, I have, as have most of you, been answering to someone regarding the minutiae of my days since I was born: First, it is parents; followed by teachers and professors; then, bosses, and in my case, clients and judges, as well. For fifty-six years, people have guided and directed my daily schedule. There has always been someone (often, multiple someones) having control, or at least an expectation, of how I spend my time.
In one hundred days, I will be beholden to no person. I will be answerable to no one regarding my daily activities. My only responsibility will be caring for my clowder of cats.
How will that level of freedom feel? Will I simply float away like a balloon whose string a child has released? To where will I float?: To gorgeously unimaginable heights, high above the treetops? Or will I become entangled in a web of branches, stuck, banging against the leaves and limbs in the breeze? Perhaps I’ll bounce into a sharp branch, and pop, falling back down to earth in a lugubrious splat.
Whichever way the balloon blows, I’m leaving BigLaw in one hundred days. I received the firm’s official notice a few days ago when I returned from a vacation to my cabin on Pancake Bay, Lake Superior. And so the expiration of my contract with the firm on December 31, 2019 is officially official. I’m essentially free, now. I rarely go into the office–there’s nothing to do there I cannot do remotely. In fact, there has been a mass exodus of lawyers from my office over the past few months. Presently, three of us remain. After December 31, there will be one solitary, lonely sod left.
Often, pondering the fact of my leaving evokes a bit of unease. I have striven for this moment for years; planned for it, saved for it, fantasized endlessly about it. Then, whether I actually left my job was within my control. Now, it is out of my hands. I can’t chicken out and stay one more year. This is it. It’s here. Holy shit.
I have begun telling clients and colleagues I’m leaving at the end of the year. There’s a general tendency to push me toward hanging on to the practice in some form. I’ve been dragged into numerous discussions about how I could scale back, do contract work, take only the work I want to do, for as many hours as I want to do it, work remotely, hang up a shingle, hire a paralegal to do the stuff I don’t want to do, go in-house, go to work with a friend, do consulting, become a mediator. Something. Anything. For the love of all that is legal and holy, I must not walk away from the practice of law entirely.
It’s odd how people find the notion of my stopping the practice completely difficult to accept; and in turn, their bewilderment is creating internal misgivings. Maybe I will miss it. Maybe I will want to continue the practice of law on my own terms. Maybe after a break, I’ll no longer view it as the most mind-numbing path I could possibly take and I’ll pick up the phone and call that client who has insisted he would welcome me back into the fold if ever I am so inclined.
Rather than become mired in endless discussions about my plans and the indecision those conversations are evoking, I have shifted to insisting that at the very least I am taking a sabbatical to fully assess what comes next. Secretly, I think I’m absolutely finished with practicing law, despite their disbelief that I could walk away from something I’m good at and could bolster my bank account doing. It is nice to be appreciated, and knowing I do have options has eased the anxiety of the unknown that’s ahead.
I feel at peace with my refusal to continue doing what I’ve always done simply because I’ve always done it. I am excited about the prospect of taking a break for long enough to learn what it is I truly want to do next. I am grateful I am in a position to relax and contemplate the balloon as it ascends and catches the wind, drifting into my next adventure.