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You spent years training your legal secretary (because an associate would've been too expensive, ungrateful, and wouldn't have learned anyway), and your secretary is really good. But if you plan to go into semi-retirement while relying on your secretary to keep the wheels turning and profit machine churning, you might want to think twice about how hands off you go. Too much, or not enough, semi-retirement, could lead to full suspension or worse.
A recent case involving attorney discipline involved just one such scenario, and the semi-retired attorney, in the autumn years of his career, is now facing a six month suspension (where he'll get to test out full time retirement). However, the case here does not stand for the proposition that a lawyer, like a judge, cannot go on senior status or into semi-retirement. But, there are lessons to be learned.
Below, you can read three tips on how to avoid facing discipline for going into semi-retirement.
The first lesson from the above attorney's discipline is clear: Don't let your name get used on form pleadings, or anything for that matter, without reviewing it first. Yes that puts a damper on retirement, even semi-retirement, but had the attorney reviewed the pleadings, he would have no doubt seen the deficiencies, and required correction before submission. While your secretary may end up hating you for being the (hard-to-reach) bottleneck to their workflow, if it's your name, it's your real neck.
The second lesson from the above attorney's discipline is also clear: Keep your thumb on the pulse of any litigation or matter you're involved in. Just because you're semi-retired, it doesn't mean you shouldn't keep up to date on what's going on. Even if there are other attorneys in your firm handling the matter, if your name is on it, you should know what's going on. Your good name could depend upon it.
The last lesson to learn from the disciplined semi-retired lawyer: Don't stop being diligent. If you're making money off the practice of law, you should know what is going on. For high volume practitioners, scaling back while maintaining profitability may prove to be more challenging than anticipated. But, for an attorney to truly semi-retire, scaling back the caseload is necessary as diligence requires time, which you need to devote to your retirement.
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