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From the Law Society

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Don’t forget to plan for retirement

I was speaking to John Marshall QC recently. He had just stepped down as Chair of the Transport Accident Investigation Commission. John will never retire but he has slowed down due to a serious illness diagnosed in July last year. John is currently writing his memoirs. He shared some of his experiences with me as he looked back on a wonderful career.

One of the most important things that John instigated when he was President of the Law Society was the Practising Well initiative. I think an aspect of practising well is planning to retire well. Many lawyers work hard, they make an adequate income and are comfortable financially (not all unfortunately) but omit to consider other aspects of retirement.

John had never intended to retire and would probably be the first to say make sure you have something to do. I was told by many older colleagues to make sure that I had something to look forward to in retirement. I am not a bowls or a bridge player so I do need to find something else to do.

For John, while never intending to retire, he always knew he wanted to write and spend time with his family and friends and to travel. Recent ill health has prevented travel but he has spent a lot of time with family and friends and has started writing. He said he has been amazed to reflect on how different the practice of law was when he began compared with today. When he started out, he and his fellow graduates regarded law as a career for life. (He says fellow graduates advisedly; there were only 31 women in practice in 1966 and it was to be another 27 years before the first woman High Court judge was appointed.) Most of them were going into a private firm to practise as barristers and solicitors. Lawyers did not become barristers until they had had many years of practice. There were only a handful of experienced and seasoned practitioners at the bar in the main centres.

I also spoke to some of my more business-minded colleagues about planning for retirement. Overall my impression is that most lawyers are not adequately planning for retirement.

The first piece of advice was to make sure you get your affairs into order before you get too old or sick and things get difficult. Lawyers are notoriously bad at making sure they have current wills and enduring powers of attorney for themselves. As a profession we really should look to this. I also know the importance of making sure the family is not surprised by anything in the will – having been counsel in bitter family disputes.

I don’t have a big presence on the internet or in the digital world, but I have made sure that someone has knowledge of my electronic presence and relevant passwords.

Thirdly, don’t leave the things that matter like family and friends until last. It may be too late. So make the most of your family and friends now. Too many of my colleagues make it to retirement only to suffer ill-health and regret the time they spent at the office at the expense of making the most of family and friends.

Finally make sure you have a party. A retirement function for John was held last month to mark the end of his term as Chief Commissioner of the Transport Air Investigation Commission. John said he was rather embarrassed that the commission proposed the function at all. Importantly it was an opportunity to reflect on the work of the commission over the last five years. John said that it had been a very busy five years in which the commission had to investigate a number of significant accidents which brought tragedy into the lives of many families. One of the notes that John received was from a lawyer who acted for three of the families. That lawyer said John’s handling of the investigation and his perseverance and thoroughness meant more to the families than he would ever know. John continues to make a difference.

I hope that is what we can all say looking back on our own careers in the law. But don’t forget to plan for retirement …

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