“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future”: John F Kennedy
When you are partner of a big law firm and you decide to retire at 45 it is curious to note the reaction of your peers and your colleagues. I was amazed at how many of my partners were envious of my new position and perhaps not so taken aback by the number of my junior colleagues who had thought I had taken leave of my senses. After all why would you want to leave a law firm with over 800 employees and with offices in 12 jurisdictions around the world and ranked in the “Offshore Magic Circle”?
When you have been working for 20 years with the single goal of always striving to deliver the best service and advice to a client, you very rarely take stock and consider whether you are being personally fulfilled. Nevertheless, if you do indulge yourself and take that moment in time you can come to the rapid realisation that your job is no longer offering the same stimuli you received when you started out as a trainee. You begin to look around and analyse your day-to-day routines. You find your day has less and less to do with the law and more and more to do with management. You realise you are managing other lawyers and staff and, of course, to an extent the clients. However, you understand you are considered as merely a cost base to them and must be constantly at their beck and call reacting to their sometime arbitrary deadlines. You occasionally feel as if you are the sideshow while the main event is something you will never be a part of.
Then when you look more closely at your specific partnership structure and the old-fashioned approach to remuneration you inevitably ask yourself the question: was the position of partner what you thought it was when you aspired to those heights as a young lawyer? The incessant and never-ending billable hour rules your day and your evenings and even your weekends. The partnership performance plans that are negotiated are political charts in a larger game in which there is only one rule – more billing.
So you must be thinking why would you leave all this behind? Why would you want to set up a family office for a high net worth individual? Why would you want to sit on the boards of half a dozen companies that include telecoms, third party litigation funding, e-commerce and private equity? Why would you want to be adding value every day to a company and feel that you are in control of the direction that company takes? You are all of a sudden setting the deadlines and being a part of a thriving business driving it where you want it to go. You are able to think laterally and with a sense of flexibility and inventiveness. This is when the decision becomes relatively straightforward and self-evident even though you are cognisant of leaving a familiar structure and support behind.
I made my decision and now I am on the front line and seeing and making decisions that immediately affect the bottom line. I don’t feel I should have moved sooner, as the disciplines and skills I learned working in a law firm and, particularly in a partnership, are vital and cannot be learned other than through experience. However, as Steve Jobs expounded:
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”