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Lawyers Look Past Perception Problems to Find Post-retirement Careers in Business

Can lawyers succeed in business careers after they retire from the law?  Yes, but they may have to overcome certain perceptions about lawyers.  Legal Week reports on its survey that found that 94% of law firm partners believe that "commercial lawyers have some level of image problem within the business community."  A third of the survey's respondents deem lawyers' image to be a "considerable" problem.

While nearly 60% of the partners expect to have a career in business after they retire from law practice, approximately the same number complained that the business community does not perceive that lawyers have become more commercial or business-literate during recent years.  Even law partners themselves can find themselves agreeing with that negative perception.  Legal Week quotes one senior finance partner at a United States law firm as saying, “Lawyers do not make good managers—it is quite unsuitable for lawyers to move into business.”

Not surprisingly, other lawyers disagree.  Bill Knight, president of the City of London Law Society, emphasized the value of lawyers' skills outside the law.  Of the managing partners of major international firms like Linklaters and Freshfields [Bruckhaus Deringer], king observed that "they are in charge of sizeable international businesses—that makes them astute businessmen, not just lawyers.”  Similarly, Julian Tucker, a structured finance partner at Shearman & Sterling, explained, “Lawyers have organisational skills and insight into the corporate world and are often giving advice on a strategic basis, so they do bring these skills to the table. Many of the world’s top bankers trained as lawyers.”

Given the perception problem, how can lawyers prepare for post-law careers in business?  Noting that lawyers are increasingly offer their experience and commercial judgment to clients, Matt Meyer of Taylor Vinters recommends that lawyers seek "to play commercial roles in their client businesses before they retire.”  As greater numbers of lawyers age and retire from the law, they may find their firms ready to help them move into business careers.  Legal Week reports that UK firms Freshfields, Clifford Chance and Simmons & Simmons are introducing support systems to help their lawyers make such transitions--a boon for those lawyers who "want more options than simply retiring in their early 50s and spending the next 30 years hacking their way around a golf course," as Legal Week's Richard Lloyd put it in an earlier editorial about lawyers' post-retirement opportunities.

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger

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