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After 50 years, isn’t it time to retire?

By Ronald R. Rossi

February 05, 2021

I recently celebrated my 50th anniversary of driving to 1960 The Alameda, where I’ve practiced law in the same location, with the same law firm, since 1971. Friends and clients have asked me, “Why are you still working? Don’t you want to retire? You have plenty of real estate investments – you don’t need to work – what’s the story?”

Well, the story is simple – I enjoy the practice of law. Thinking about how to answer those questions, I started mulling over all the significant factors that helped make my long-term career as stimulating and rewarding as it has been. I thought I’d share some of them with you.

    1. A supportive spouse/partner/significant other. I have been with my wife for 61 years. When I began practicing law in 1971, working long hours trying to start building a career, she suddenly had to take over 100% – the house, our kids, paying bills and monitoring finances, and eventually property management, all while giving me the emotional support and encouragement to continue to improve my craft. Without the support of my wife, and later my children who often saw their dad preparing over the weekend for Monday’s trial, I wouldn’t have been in a position to build the practice.
    2. A genuine desire to solve problems and help people, as opposed to a focus on solely making money, is critical to a successful professional practice. Over the last 50 years, the law has gone through innumerable changes and will go through more. I’m always disheartened to see that some lawyers are primarily motivated by profit, not galvanized by the sincere desire to be of service to their clients and put their needs first. If money is your only goal, once you’ve achieved that financial security, where is your motivation to keep working? For me, the bottom line is that you need to have that burning desire to help clients and solve problems.
    3. Good mentors are absolutely invaluable. As a young attorney starting out, I was hired by Sal Liccardo and Dick Caputo, both successful trial lawyers. Their mentoring was critical to my success as a lawyer. They both told me, “You don’t need to join a bunch of clubs and go to the golf course to get paying clients. Just learn your skills, be a good lawyer, work hard, be honest and diligent, and you will be successful.” How true that was.
    4. You need a hardworking, skilled, and dependable team – they are your foundation. The practice of law has become increasingly complex over the last 50 years, particularly in terms of technology. Without excellent legal assistants to rely on, you can get into trouble in no time. I have been blessed in my career to have only four legal assistants, all of whom have been exemplary.

With every technological advance, I would add people with specialized skills to our litigation team. I certainly can’t manage every new program or gizmo. Without the support staff and legal team I’ve collaborated with for the last 50 years, I couldn’t have succeeded, and, even more importantly, I wouldn’t have been able to come to work every day with the unflagging interest and drive it takes to tackle the next set of legal challenges.

Our firm jokes about the “gray hair rule”: the guy with the grayest hair has the highest hourly rate. That’s me. I tell clients up front, however, that there are certain projects or tasks I no longer enjoy doing and that my junior partners and associates can do better and faster than I can. For example, I can give all kinds of guidance on the strategy and tactics that will lead to an effective legal brief, I can review and critique a legal brief, but I have not sat down and actually written one for many, many years. I never enjoyed writing briefs, and I was never very good at it. But I learned very quickly that it made sense to surround myself with folks who could turn out well-written, persuasive briefs at half my hourly rate. That way, everybody wins – the client gets an excellent legal brief, and I don’t have to do it myself, leaving my brain free to stay fresh, do what I do best, and enjoy doing it. Focusing on using my specific skills developed over the past five decades – strategizing, negotiating, taking depositions, trying case – while collaborating with my team makes the work enjoyable for me as well as beneficial to our clients.

  1. Team up with partners who have integrity, a fantastic work ethic, and a commitment to practicing law at the highest possible level. I have been unbelievably fortunate throughout my career in my partners. In 50 years, with the exception of a few who retired and one who, sadly, passed away far too early in her life and career, my partners have been a constant in my work, a source of collaboration and support – and great fun.
  2. I realized early on that I wanted to specialize in real estate law, and I did everything possible to direct my skills toward achieving that goal. The law was growing increasingly complex even back then. New legal specialties and subspecialties crop up all the time, but I’ve never been tempted to stray from real property litigation. For me, that focus allowed me to stay with one firm for my entire career, watching and helping it evolve and grow, with great contentment and success.
  3. I am a strong advocate of physical activity – I find it increases mental acuity and stamina, and it’s also just plain fun. I started jogging when I was in the service in 1969-1970. I kept that up until 2003 when I had hip replacements (probably because of all the jogging, ironically). I then turned to other physical pursuits – boxing, weightlifting, skiing, walking, hiking, and Pilates, all of which I believe have contributed to my energy and ability to continue enjoying the practice of law.
  4. One must come to the realization that you do a job, including the practice of law, because you enjoy it and for the sake of the inner satisfaction you get from it, not for the accolades of clients or peers. A lot of old-time trial lawyers will quote you the adage “The law is a cruel mistress.” The bottom line, however, is it doesn’t have to be a cruel mistress at all, nor does any other job. If you love the work you do, coming to work is something you look forward to every day.
  5. The most important factor of all is the relationships I have established with thousands of clients and contacts over the last 50 years. I have some clients who have been clients for 45+ years, and those relationships mean so much to me and my family. I thank all of those who have worked with us over the years. It has been, and continues to be, a real pleasure.

I want to thank all of you who have reached out and congratulated me on 50 years here at 1960 The Alameda.