I am a partner in the litigation department of an Am Law 200 firm, vice chair of the firm’s appellate practice group, deputy general counsel for the firm, and I serve on a variety of firm committees. In addition, I have longtime faculty appointments at both Chicago-Kent College of Law and the University of Chicago Law School. I should also add that I am a white male.
It’s well known that many in the legal profession experience stress and anxiety. For some people, the inevitable uncertainty and unpredictability that come with legal work can make life more exciting and invigorating. For others, it causes depression and burnout.
So many of us struggle in silence while striving for excellence, when only a helping hand and understanding—not only from family and friends but also from colleagues and those with leading positions in law firms—could guide our way to attain success as humans and as professionals.
Very early in my legal career while practicing law in Jamaica, a client kept me on my toes with a criminal law matter. In one instance, it was clear I had not been given any written instructions about a matter and that client was getting increasingly agitated. A very senior lawyer sitting beside me passed me a note that simply said, “Get that in writing. You must always protect yourself.”
“Today, I have to make an impact in front of the judge,” the Venezuelan asylum-seeker told me at the tent court in Brownsville, Texas. This was just a few minutes before his hearing in front of the immigration judge who would be appearing remotely on a monitor inside the tent court.
I talk to a lot of attorneys who are suffering from stress and anxiety. They feel victimized, lost or unappreciated. Most of their lives are spent trying to impress their superiors or their clients with their talent and knowledge. They are depressed because they have often been told that the secrets to success don’t work.
How do you take your own deposition? When I was struggling with my retirement strategy, I took a self-deposition to prioritize my goals and find out what I wanted to do next. Through this process of self-interrogation, I discovered the answer was to retire in stages.
I started writing law review articles in mid-career, after many years of publishing academic articles in STEM journals. Arriving to academic law with an outsider’s perspective (my PhD is in engineering; I have a faculty appointment at UCLA in both engineering and law), I was surprised to learn that law is an exception among academic disciplines in relation to authorship of scholarly works. In most other disciplines, it is routine—and in fact expected—for faculty to co-author scholarly publications with graduate students.
It dawned on me that although the law is indeed a jealous mistress, as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story famously said, it also is flexible, and retirement doesn’t have to be abrupt. After much consideration, I realized I didn’t have to quit the law “cold turkey.” In fact, lawyers can retire in stages, and that’s exactly what I’m doing.
During lunch on my first day as a first-year associate at a large international law firm almost 15 years ago, one of the partners in my practice group gave me one of the bluntest pieces of career advice I’ve received: “No one cares more about your career than you do.”