Paul L. Caron

Thursday, March 11, 2021

The Death Of A Lawyer: A Journey From Law School To BigLaw Partner To Retirement

ABA Journal:  The Death of a Lawyer: A Journey From Law School to BigLaw Partner to Retirement, by Douglas Halpert (Senior Counsel, Hammond Neal Moore, Cincinnati):

HalpertI found myself on a Greyhound bus headed to Buffalo, New York, to join the law firm Cohen Swados, where I quickly learned that I did not want to be an estate lawyer. Fortunately, an opportunity almost immediately arose to be the firm’s sole immigration lawyer. I had found my professional passion. ...

I successfully learned the trade and flourished in Buffalo and then was knighted partner at Frost & Jacobs in Cincinnati in 1998 after migrating with my wife to relatively warmer climes. But these successes did not inspire me to want to spend my entire life practicing law.

It was not that I was dreadfully or even moderately unhappy being a lawyer. After all, I had indeed found something I was equipped to do and was able to earn a living. ...

[M]ost lawyers I encountered were unhappy: gloomily sitting at their desks; griping about the pressure of producing at their law firm; miserable at the constant demands of their clients; and weary from being browbeaten by their spouses about their long hours.

The common theme is that unlike many professions, where one effectively has a shift and punches a clock, lawyers in private practice have no natural boundaries to their work hours. The result is an unbalanced life, and lawyers sacrifice their creative dreams of earlier years, such as designing stained glass or writing novels.

And so as I traversed the decades, I saw lawyers burn out and leave the profession; lawyers with seemingly solid marriages get divorced; and lawyers have incapacitating strokes either just before or after retirement. I even knew of lawyers who literally died at their desks. It conjured up the words of the famous filmmaker, Jean Cocteau: “Every day in the mirror I watch death at work.” ...

I plotted an elaborate escape. First, I shed the intractable golden shackles of BigLaw partner expectations and migrated from Dinsmore & Shohl to Hammond Law Group, a boutique immigration firm that had a ready-made work-life balance. Then I renegotiated my contract to reduce my hours and cede control over many corporate and other clients to younger lawyers. ...

The death of my mother and her incredibly brave words in her final hour, “Let’s get this show on the road!” was yet another impetus to push my plans further ahead. I changed my job to focus more on marketing and associate development, before becoming part-time, and ultimately advising my partners that Nov. 8, 2021, will be the date of my retirement. “Retirement” may be an inaccurate word, as I will be entering a full-time profession as an aspiring author.

As I write these words at dusk, a cloud of starlings is circling the 32nd floor of the Carew Tower, the 1930s-era art deco masterpiece in which I work. Many colleagues think that their sudden appearance in recent weeks is happenstance and find their screaming fly-bys to be terrifying—like a scene from Hitchcock’s classic movie The Birds.

But I recognize them as the ghosts of lawyers past as they fly by: bankruptcy, matrimonial, corporate. There goes labor and probate. I know that they have come for me.

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