To retire or not to retire

Posted in: Bloggery

This month I have had a crack at writing a short paper about senior partners in law firms and in professional services firms, when the time to consider “retirement” looms.

It has not been an easy paper to write, because I think this is one of the more challenging career transitions to contemplate.

The journey to reach and sustain partnership in any large professional services firm is stretching, to say the least.  Success in a partnership role requires deep expertise in a field, or a combination of them.  Success also requires client relationship skills, project management skills, staff development capabilities and practice management: working in collaboration with other partners to somehow build a firm which is more than the sum of its parts.  The intellectual and personal stretch involved often becomes fairly self-defining: individual identities become very much wrapped up in the role.

The contemplation of retirement in this circumstance is really quite challenging.   The distance between all that partnership involves and another quite different existence called “retirement” seems unbridgeable.  Exploration of what might be involved is often difficult within the firm – because such talk runs counter to the hunger for growth, client retention and performance expected and cultivated in the organisation.

Exploration of a post-partner career is also limited by lack of time, and perhaps a degree of ignorance, and even fear.  I think most partners would not wish to move to a life of pure leisure: playing golf, fishing, and travelling perhaps.  Most would look for a good measure of ongoing intellectual stimulation and activity.  Some may also be concerned to keep a good level of income flowing.

Some individuals do seem to build portfolios of great activities as they build their post-partner careers: some directorships and a little advisory work perhaps.  This seems like a terrific outcome: a very desirable alternative to pure retirement.

But for many, how these outcomes are landed are a mystery and not at all well-understood.  It becomes an ideal outcome which is more often than not unrealised.

This career transition is one we work in with a range of individuals and firms – but to me I am always acutely aware of the complexity of the issues and circumstances facing those involved.  This is a transition best given plenty of time, and begun with little steps, some skills development and exploration well ahead of an expected move from full partnership.