I spend a fair amount of time these days considering, pondering and counseling counsel as to the professional-vocational problems of aging lawyers (Ls).

Two problems are particularly pressing, and a third is sometimes lurking the the bushes. Both of the first two problems revolve an insufficiency of work to do, whilst L would like to do legal work. This is especially a problem in Texas since the number of Ls is growing fast and at a speedier rate than the hiring population, whether human persons or corporate-entity type persons.

The first version of this problem is for Ls who have “retired” from (quite often pushed or eased out of) law firms where they have been for many years or firms to which they went when a group of partners at a previous firm all bolted, and s/he had to go too). “What do I do now?” goes the question often asked me. There is a great deal of suffering involved when old-L get an office half the size of the old one, is assigned no assistant, is not included in reasoning sessions, is paid directly in accordance with productivity or by the hour, and so on.

The second problem is related. Often Ls in this pickle ask themselves, “From where can I get new business?” For the lawyer who has not been a rain maker, s/he will find that the work does not come at all easily, even from former clients. Some Ls try the “unretirement” route and try starting up a new business, but usually this is in the law but another sector of it. Sometimes they get the idea of providing legal services to the elderly, but most lawyers who already do this oppose new “kids” in various ways, some of which have struck me an on the savory side.  Besides what is a litigator to do? Draft wills? Handle real estate transactions? Unlikely. But the aging litigator knows that lawsuits for the elderly are to some extent pointless because of defense-by delay tactics. (Of course, it is possible to plead only cases which are quite small cases–Level 1 cases, they are called in Texas. And it is possible to debt protection cases. Or it is possible to help fill out “retirement forms.)

Sometimes I have suggested L consider starting a new litigation practice by advertising in various places with such slogans as “Lawsuits tried quick and cheap here,” “Legal writing for a song,” but I am not sure whether the Bar would agree to that, and–I guess–I mean it mostly in a light-hearted way.  (In one state not long ago, one debtor representing lawyer issued an ad something like this: “I’ve been screwing banks for many years. Take you turn with me.” The bar sanctioned this fellow severly for using this kind of phraseology in several ad-maxims.

In any case, people who are about to spend/invest money in legal services are hesitant about using really aging lawyers. More than a few firms are reluctant to hire them since they find themselves not quite understanding how long L will want to work, how long clients will want him/her, and/or how long L will live and/or function.
Some of the Ls I have talked to are concerned about some lacks they seem to have acquired, as it were, as they have aged.

One of the most frequent problems is a lack of computer, cyber, and/or digital skills. I have seen senior have trouble with electronic filings and even the computer-and-copier addressing of envelopes or the use of scanning processes.  I have even seen highly experienced litigators not know how to get process served; after all, they haven’t done it in  years; there have always–or formerly–been paralegal or secretarial subordinates who did that sort of thing for one, of course.

The emotional sense of inferiority and discouragement seem acute for these “fellows/fellas.” Discouragement runs high. Sometimes that comes from the past. (Q. Where’s the Shepherd manual? A. There isn’t one anymore.) Sometimes it comes from weak and random failures of memory. Starting over again for those who are 75 is not easy. Not ever person nearly 75 can run for president.  Sometimes my counseling is on how to deal with the “pushing out” firm. Sometimes it’s main function is to tell them they are not alone. Occasionally I have suggests that several people in the 68-75 range create new firms.

I have even suggested that Ls write off everything and set out anew. If you like beaches, go to corpus and “janet,” part time or work in a surf shop. If you like mountains, go to a small town in Colorado and find work as a paralegal in a stumble-bum small law firm at a very low rate. Knoweldge and pleasure will return, I say.

Alas, I don’t seem to be having much success with any of these suggestions. Mostly the L-to-L provision of counsel involves sitting together in loving silence or telling stories together over coffee or on a park bench.  (I read somewhere, in Somerset Maugham’s RAZOR’S EDGE, I think, that silence itself can be a form of conversation.

I don’t charge anybody anything. First, I’m not doing much good, I think, and second, I don’t have a license to counsel in this way, for the most part. There is an area where I have some recognized competence to help some of them, however and that is the area of lawyer ethics, whether disciplinary rules, the law of lawyering, or the moral responsibilities of Ls as lawyers.

The number of Ls who violate one or more of the Eleven Commandments of Legal Ethics (see my blogs elsewhere) seems to increase over the years in some cases.  Thus, Ls who steal from their client may or may not increase slightly as the Ls get older–not that it become a huge number. I’m reasonably certain, however, partly on the basis of anecdotal evidence, that if the number of Ls falling into sin does not increase, or does,  he size of the heists and embezzlement does go up. This may be because lawyer in their older middle age have more access to client trust accounts. the same goes for embezzlement from firm accounts. For at least some of them, they are looking for a new form of excitement, and it gets not only beyond the law, but way out of hand.

What do I say to those Ls? I’ll not discuss it here.

Originally posted on 03/02/2016 @ 10:25 pm

Michael Sean Quinn, PhD, JD, CPCU, Etc

Michael Sean Quinn, PhD, JD, CPCU, Etc. (530)

One of Texas's leading insurance scholars, Michael Sean Quinn is a past chair of the Insurance Section of the State Bar of Texas and has a broad legal practice.

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