When I was younger and had children arriving about every two years, I left my career. Because I’m a lawyer, I referred to it as laying down the law. I even wrote a book about it called Coming Home to Raise Your Children.
As children tend to do, they grew up. I went from the overly-involved mom to the mom who felt like my busy life was behind me. They still need me, even as adults, but it’s a different kind of needing. My hands and at least part of my brain in freed up to do things I want to do.
I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to return to law. The kind I practice – criminal defense – is stressful. And all of law can be soul sucking.
But return I did.
My first reentry position was for a non-profit organization. Doing mostly legal advising, I was able to work from home via phone and emails.
Several times a year, I traveled to conventions to represent the organization. This schedule suited me well. I was busy enough to feel engaged, but not too busy that home life suffered.
As sometimes happens in non-profits, the funding dried up, and I started to look around for something else.
I started my criminal law career as a prosecutor while I was still in law school. It’s a great career path for young lawyers because you get courtroom experience and can move into other areas of the law easier.
I fell in love with criminal law. The drama, the weird stories, the interesting characters, the study of human nature all intrigued me.
When I laid down the law to raise my kids, I always assumed I would return to the criminal arena.
What did that look like as a late 50-year-old?
Challenging. Do-able. Fun. That’s what it looked like.
The practice of law has changed in the 30-plus years that I have held my law license. It is still incredibly competitive. Criminal lawyers battle fiercely for clients. And the practice itself is becoming both more specialized and more a la carte.
I got back into the courtroom doing what’s called coverage work. With law firms practicing in many counties, they are turning to non-employee coverage attorneys to cover cases that don’t fit in the regular schedule.
I began to do that for civil work and then found an opening for coverage for criminal work.
Doing coverage work for a criminal firm allowed me to refresh my skills and dust off my courtroom practice. After not too long a time, the firm had an opening for a full-time attorney, and I leaped at the opportunity.
Of course, there are plusses and minuses to returning to a career in your 50s and 60s, and here are the ones I discovered.
I have way more confidence as an older woman. I don’t mean the cocky confidence of some of the young peacock male attorneys I see strutting around. I mean the confidence of someone who has seen human nature – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and is not surprised by much.
It’s a confidence that allows me to look a feisty judge in the eye and say, “You can’t do anything to mess with me!” It feels good.
I don’t let people irritate or upset me. Judges, clients, and lawyers can grate on your nerves. I am able to brush them off and leave their problems and concerns at the office.
I realize I have shoes that are older than many of the young prosecutors I am up against in court. So, I really enjoy encouraging and affirming those young people because I remember being a nervous, uncertain young lawyer.
When a young prosecutor beats me in a case, I am the first to congratulate him or her. They need encouragement. I can give it.
I am having fun – chatting with other lawyers and doing the work – because I am not as burned out and tired as they are. Because I was blessed with a mommy sabbatical, I don’t have 30 years of stress built up.
The lawyers I meet are often focused on retirement and the golf course. For me, I am focused on the next trial and having fun with it!
But it’s not all roses and rainbows. Here are some of the drawbacks:
I dearly miss having free time. Many things are now set aside or only minimally scheduled. I go to basket weaving class with a great bunch of ladies. We like to say it’s cheaper than therapy! While I’m still weaving, I have little time for anything else.
The fatigue can be dreadful. Some nights I go to bed at 8 o’clock! I have to carefully monitor my energy level so I have the stamina to make it through an average week that includes long hours and a fair amount of travel. But it is a daily reminder to me to guard my health and take care of myself well.
The only other negative aspects are petty: having to plan meals to take for the week so I’m not always eating in restaurants; dry cleaning bills; car maintenance. These are the constant negatives in any busy lifestyle, and I approach them with my usual organization and frugality.
If you are thinking about returning to a career in your 50s or 60s, you should know it can be enormously satisfying. Just make sure you get your rest!
What are your work plans for your 50s and 60s? Have you returned to work that you loved but had to leave for whatever reasons? Or perhaps you found new work that you now enjoy? How is it going for you? What strategies have you found to help make it work? Please share with our community.
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