What does it mean for a lawyer to retire?
As my hair started turning salt-and-peppery, the most common question I faced was, “Are you retired from practice yet?” The second most common was, “When do you plan to retire?” But what does it mean for a lawyer to retire? What changes?
Albert Einstein noted, “I have reached an age when if someone tells me to wear socks, I don’t have to.” Well, my hair is now more salty than peppery, and I stopped my Toronto-area litigation practice more than four years ago. Does retirement take the lawyer out of the lawyer?
The first notable postretirement change for me was the end of my urge to read everything that looks legal. If I was ever asked to sign anything, I would scrutinize the document front and back. When I rented a car, I’d be the one holding up the line as I asked the clerk questions, such as, “What do you mean by ‘the customer is responsible for’ … ?”
Now, my yen to get picky has diminished. Were the document to read, “Sign on the line above where it says, Dr. Faustus,” I’d consider it.
I also find my patience has diminished. While in practice, I typically spent hours parsing lengthy separation agreements and employment contracts. Now, I am uncomfortable dealing with even the simplest of forms. I received a Canada census form recently, and it troubled me to complete it even though it was their “short-form” version. I needed a break after confirming the pre-populated information of my name, age and address. I felt like adding, “Hey, don’t bug me. I’m retired now.”
Bookkeeping is also an issue. Whereas I routinely was able to carry in my head a divorcing client’s detailed financial status—as well as their spouse’s—these days, a review of my own simple checking bank account annoys me. Rather than review it monthly, I often tell myself, “It’s a bank; it must be OK.”
Then again, I recently played Monopoly with my granddaughter, and I drew the “Chance” card that read, “Bank error in your favor. Collect $200.” This troubled me. After the game, I rushed to check my bank statement—but I still didn’t like doing it. I thought of life after death and just hoped that wherever I end up, they don’t turn me into a forensic accountant.
Retirement also allows me the luxury of irreverence and informality. For years, if I would pass a judge on the street, I would address him or her as “your honor.” Though tempted, I would not add, “Remember Hendricks v. Carter? You really shafted my client, Hendricks.”
Postretirement, I find I’m less inhibited. I saw a judge at a restaurant once—pre-COVID-19—and I said, “Hi Arthur. I didn’t know judges eat.” He smiled, and we had a brief informal chat about the restaurant’s famous Dover sole. I did not mention Hendricks v. Carter. (I said I’m less inhibited, not crazy.)
This leads me to civility. I can proudly say that in more than 40 years in the trenches, I never resorted to personal ad hominem attacks on opposing counsel or their clients. Well, maybe as Gilbert and Sullivan’s Captain Corcoran said in HMS Pinafore, “Hardly ever.”
Though tempted, I have been successful postretirement in maintaining this trait. I checked in for a flight once—pre-COVID-19 again—and though the airline was supposed to let our luggage fly free, given our rewards status, the desk clerk insisted the “system” did not note this information, and he demanded $60.
Notwithstanding my eloquent pleas, he would not budge, insisting I pay now and notify customer service later. I was livid. I was about to tell him where he can go (I was thinking about that place I feared they may turn me into a forensic accountant). But after decades of exercising restraint to remain civil, while signing the credit card authorization, I just said, “Thank you sir. Unfortunately, on this transaction I don’t see an option to leave a tip.” (I did get the $60 back eventually.)
Continuing legal education is another area of change. Whereas before I had to satisfy Law Society mandatory CLE annual hours, now I can just learn what I want when I want to. I took one class on changes to our Insurance Act just for the fun of it. I had trouble understanding one speaker, a professor, who was over-the-top dull, incongruent and incomprehensible. He may as well have spoken in Middle Phoenician.
In the past, I would have hit the dialogue box, and I would likely have said something like, “Sir, can you please explain that point again about ‘no coverage’? It sounds crystal clear, but I must be missing something.” Now I just said to myself, “Hey, who cares? I don’t have to know this stuff anymore. I’m retired.”
People ask about how I spend my weekdays. The important question should be, how did I used to spend them? While in practice, I found myself stressing, come Sunday evenings, knowing I had to get up Monday and jump into the lion’s den, or perhaps the firepit, or at times the 10-ring circus. I called the feeling the “Monday-morning blues.”
Near the end, I started getting the Monday-morning blues earlier on Sunday, and then progressively even earlier. Friday morning would arrive, and I’d feel good for a short while. Then I’d say to myself, “Hey, Sunday is only 48 hours away. That means my Monday blues will set in.” I soon developed a Friday midday-blues syndrome. The only time it eased was if there was a statutory holiday that fell on Monday. This helped a bit, advancing my Friday midday-blues syndrome into Saturday.
Approaching age 70 is not a good time to be sad. I dreamed and longed for the opportunity to be able to just do nothing, little simple things, like loaf. That dream materialized with my decision to retire from practice. Had I not done so, I likely would have had the Monday-morning blues earlier on in the week, progressing from Fridays to Thursdays to Wednesdays, to Tuesdays and then to Mondays. Come Monday, I likely would have worried about what’s in store for me on the following Monday, next week. Who knows? Yikes!
Now to have to get up on Monday morning is a nonissue. The days of the week don’t matter. Sometimes, I forget what day it is. I just know it ends with the suffix “day.” That’s all I must know.
Actually though, loafing is great. I’ve had time to follow my passion for writing, having just launched my new book, Boomers, Zoomers, and Other Oomers: A Boomer-biased Irreverent Perspective on Aging.
Einstein had it right: I am not talking about his theory of relativity. As I write these words, I have chosen not to wear socks.
Marcel Strigberger, after 40-plus years of practicing civil litigation in the Toronto area, closed his law office and decided to continue to pursue his humor writing and speaking passions. His just-launched book is Boomers, Zoomers, and Other Oomers: A Boomer-biased Irreverent Perspective on Aging. Read more of Strigberger’s work at marcelshumour.com, and follow him at @MarcelsHumour on Twitter.