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Planning ahead for retirement

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For attorneys who may be making a New Year’s resolution to consider retirement in 2011, 2012, or even 2013, it’s never too early to start planning.

To help attorneys get a head start, the Indiana Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program partnered with the Indiana State Bar Association to run seminars around the state during 2010.

Close Since he started winding down his practice in 2006, Avon bankruptcy attorney Nicholas Schmutte has enjoyed spending more time with his horses. He said he doesn’t regret retiring and has no plans to return to the practice of law. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

JLAP has also helped a number of attorneys facing retirement, something executive director Terry Harrell said JLAP has been hearing about more and more in recent years.

The calls started, she said, because attorneys were noticing other attorneys should retire due to memory problems or other issues in the office. They sometimes called Harrell and her staff for advice.

As a way to let the entire legal community know that not all lawyers need to practice into their 70s or 80s, especially if they can no longer keep up with the demanding job of being a lawyer, she said JLAP started making retirement more of a priority.

“We can assist lawyers with any career transition, including retirement,” she said. “There are situations where retired lawyers will thrive and there are situations where they might be in trouble, might be depressed. We want to help them. … We love to meet with attorneys before they retire to talk to them about what they can expect in terms of the emotional aspects.”

For instance, attorneys who retire without something else in their lives tend to have a harder time making the transition. She strongly suggests attorneys start a hobby, volunteer, or travel, something to keep them engaged as they shift from full-time worker to retiree.

But before retirement happens, attorneys must take the proper steps to close down an office. Those steps include making a timeline that ends after current cases are scheduled to be wrapped up, telling others at the firm, informing clients about the decision and their options to find a new lawyer for future representation, sending clients a copy of their file, deciding how long to keep client files and having a plan to eventually destroy them, and figuring out what to do with everything associated with the office such as furniture and phone lines.

At the end of this list, the attorney must also inform the Indiana Supreme Court of his or her retired status. After this is filed, an attorney can no longer practice law.

Harrell added attorneys sometimes forget this step, which means the attorney would likely face fines and/or other disciplinary actions.

In addition to the sessions about retiring that took place this summer, how to close an office due to retirement or for other reasons is often discussed at legal conferences.

For instance, Grant Superior Judge Warren Haas participated on panels about this topic for the Indiana State Bar Association in October 2006 and again for the Indiana Continuing Legal Educational Forum in October 2008.

retirementBefore he ran for judge in 2008, he said he was concerned about what would happen to his practice if he was involved in an emergency.

He started a solo practice May 5, 1976, and he said he wanted to make sure that his clients would be taken care of if anything happened to him.

“Because the practice of elder law is fairly technical, my client contracts normally contained a paragraph naming a successor attorney, if I would become unable to complete work due to death or disability,” Judge Haas said via e-mail. “Unearned fees were always placed in trust and the arrangement was for that money to be transferred to the successor attorney to complete the work. My primary concern was to protect my clients.”

While he didn’t end up closing his office due to any emergencies, he did decide to run for judge and made arrangements to transfer his practice after deciding to participate in the 2008 election.

He started working with Teri Pollett, who had been in Grant County for a few years and had an interest in elder law. They agreed to operate as a general partnership starting Aug. 1, 2008. He gave her control of the files starting Dec. 30, 2008, and the general partnership was dissolved. Judge Haas started serving as a judge Jan. 1, 2009.

Another attorney who decided to shut down his office was Avon attorney Robert McDowell.

“It’s easier to open a practice than to stop,” he said. “When you first open your doors, you invite people you know to an open house and hope you get enough clients to keep going. I’ve been in the process of retiring for two years.”

McDowell, 63, said he told his clients and the other attorneys in his small firm in mid-2008 that he planned to start winding down his practice. His goal at the time was to retire by the end of that year.

Knowing he would continue to get calls and mail, McDowell had his office phone number forwarded to his home phone. He continues to visit the office once a week to pick up his mail.

While his practice has slowed down, he still receives five to 10 calls a week, including new client referrals.

In some of those cases, he said, callers have fairly simple questions he can answer. If he knows the question isn’t simple, if it’s a potential new client, or an old client who didn’t pay him before he started shutting down his office, he’ll refer the client to another attorney.

While with the Avon Law Office of Singer McDowell & Schmutte, McDowell practiced mostly family law. Prior to that, he worked for the legal department for Rolls Royce, formerly Allison Gas Turbine Division of General Motors. While working for Rolls Royce, he also had a small part-time civil practice.

He recalls that when he retired, he benefitted from the experience of his partner, Nicholas Schmutte, 68, who had joined the practice full-time in 2002 as a bankruptcy attorney. Schmutte had also worked for Rolls Royce’s legal department while practicing part-time.

Schmutte decided to retire two years earlier in 2006, when he decided to run for judge in Hendricks County. He told his partners in mid-2006 that on Jan. 1, 2007, he would either be on the bench or retired.

While McDowell had a difficult time ending his family law practice, Schmutte said he thought he was lucky because bankruptcy cases tend to have a defined end date.

Schmutte continued to do some bankruptcy work after slowing down his practice, which included leaving his office space to work from home. He said he again notified clients and other lawyers that he’s officially finished as of the end of 2010.

While they have both slowed down their practices, they have no plans to slow down their lives.

McDowell said he has done some legal work for his wife’s consulting firm, including contracts. He also has a couple of open cases and said he has considered volunteering to take on pro bono cases.

Schmutte said he continues to remain active with the Hendricks County Bar Association as a way to socialize with other attorneys. He also owns two horses and keeps them on his property, and he spends much of his time with them, including camping trips.

“I’m pretty satisfied with the way it worked out,” McDowell said of his retirement. “It was helpful to see Nick do it first, and keeping the phone number was a good idea. The downside is the phone rings all the time, but I figure if I don’t get it, it goes to voicemail, and I can get to it on my own time.”•

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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