The Client Impact of Your Retirement

More than 10% of lawyers in BC are 65 years old or older, and that’s probably why a lot of you are discussing, or at least pondering, your own firm’s demographic composition and the necessity for successful planning.

A LSBC Benchers’ Bulletin states:

“Over 1,100 (or 10.4%) of the 10,700 practising BC lawyers today are 65 years old of age or older, compared to only 380 practising lawyers 65 or older in 2003 (4.2% of ­total). That’s an annual growth rate of 11.2%. There has also been a significant increase in the number of practising lawyers between the ages of 60 and 64, with 486 in 2003 compared with 1,245 in 2013, a 9.9% annual increase.”

You can read the whole bulletin here:


Chart reproduced with permission from The Law Society of British Columbia.

We’re going to see a lot of changes in the next five to ten years as this group transitions to retirement, and I can’t help but wonder, “What will happen to all that client intelligence that’s not documented?”

It’s no exaggeration to state that some clients have been with their lawyer for decades, and naturally, there’s a massive amount of inherent knowledge that one retains over the years that regularly comes back into play when providing legal advice for those long term clients. Generations of family businesses come to mind here in particular. What becomes of the new generation of owners and operators when the family’s long term trusted adviser retires? Surely there must be a plan, right?

Most lawyers don’t plan their retirement gleefully, so it’s a task that is often (ok, not always!) left to others to gently and oh so sensitively navigate, or it’s done while walking back to their office holding packing tape for waiting boxes. But seriously, your legacy should include an introduction to a worthy understudy early so that that transition and “get to know you” time can unfold as naturally as possible. Eventually you will have to start handing over files and overseeing the work. It will feel strange. You’ll feel left out. You may worry and fret. Or, maybe not. Quite possibly your thoughtful planning will get traction and you’ll see a productive working relationship take flight. Now that’s a swan song and a legacy worth working towards.

If it took 40 years to build up your practice, one would think it’s worthy of some time and energy to wind it down. Particularly as doing so will minimize the impact of your absence for your beloved clients.


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