Successful attorneys should have successful retirements.
The skills that make a great lawyer should be used to make a great retiree.
Individually define the job description to realize the joyful mission.
by Sara Dysart
Sara E. Dysart, P.C.
Introduction — “Being 70”
There are currently 14,393 active attorneys in Texas who have reached the age of 70. I am one of them. I turned 70 on August 7th. While I am not sure what being 70 means, I have agreed to write about it.
Being 70, or 70 plus, means we were born on or before 1952 and are part of the following demographic group.
In 2020, about 16.9 percent of the American population was 65 years old or over, a figure which is expected to reach 22 percent by 2050. This is a significant increase from 1950 when only eight percent of the population was 65 or over. [Website Statista]
It also means that we are susceptible to health issues. As stated in the article referenced below, “…the majority of older adults — about 60% — have two or more chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, arthritis, hypertension, heart disease or kidney disease, and higher rates of physical impairment than other age groups.” But health issues do not necessarily define “being 70”.
In an article by Judith Graham, titled “Why So Many Older Americans Rate Their Health As Good or Even Excellent,” published in Kaiser Health News, June 13, 2019, the author debunks a common myth that seniors are burdened by health issues.
A common myth about aging is that older adults are burdened by illness and feel lousy much of the time. In fact, the opposite is usually true. Most seniors report feeling distinctly positive about their health.
Consider data from the 2017 National Health Interview Survey (the most recent available) administered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
When asked to rate their overall health, 82% of adults ages 65 to 74 described it as excellent (18%), very good (32%), or good (32%) — on the positive side of the ledger. By contrast, 18% of this age group had a negative perspective, describing their health as fair (14%) or poor (4%).
This trend toward positivity is also evident among adults age 75 and older: 73% of this group said their health was excellent (12%), very good (28%), or good (33%), while only 27% gave a fair (20%) or poor (7%) evaluation.
How could this be true when the majority of older adults — about 60% — have two or more chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, arthritis, hypertension, heart disease, or kidney disease, and higher rates of physical impairment than other age groups?
The answer lies in how older adults think about their health. For many, good health means more than the lack of illness or disability. The components of health they tend to value more are vitality, emotional well-being, positive social relationships, remaining active, and satisfaction with life, while poor physical functioning plays a less important role.
The last sentence resonates with me. While we should definitely take care of our physical well-being, including nutrition, exercise, and following doctors’ orders, this paper focuses upon “being 70, an attorney, and the value of ‘vitality, emotional well-being, positive social relationships, remaining active and satisfaction with life.’ No doubt an interesting focus–given the quandary of whether these components of health existed in our lives before 70.
I am not a psychologist or a counselor. I am an attorney who just turned 70. I am facing the same dilemma that many of my colleagues face as they are asked, “When are you going to retire?” or “What are you going to do when you retire?” or “What are you doing now that you are retired?” Even more alarming, there is a part of me that does not believe that any of these questions apply to me. Retire? Me? I do not think so! Now what?
A Twelve-Step Program for a Joyful Life
With this disclaimer, I will offer another approach to achieving these components of health. I work a program that has served me well over the last 20-plus years. I am an alcoholic who works a recovery program that has allowed me to have a quality of life that I could not have imagined before I walked into the doors of an AA meeting on December 30, 2001. An integral part of the AA program is the Twelve Steps which are based upon spiritual principles. When practiced as a way of life, they can expel the obsession to drink and enable the sufferer to recover from alcoholism.
Stop and take a breath! I am not evangelizing for AA because that is not how AA works. The rest of my paper has nothing to do with living without a drink or two or more! I am going “to go out on a limb” and attempt to apply the AA Twelve-Step Program to “being 70, an attorney, and desiring “vitality, emotional well-being, positive social relationships, remaining active and satisfaction with life.” In other words, I believe that there are nuggets of wisdom which can be taken from the AA Twelve-Step Program that will translate into a response of “excellent, very good or good” when asked to rate our overall health. I also believe that a response of “excellent, very good, or good” equates to a “joyful life.” Based upon this premise, my references to having a “joyful life” means a life of “vitality, emotional well-being, positive social relationships, remaining active and satisfaction with life.”
Beware! A twelve-step program is a journey that should not be traveled alone. The AA Program offers sponsorship and fellowship. As you will see when you get to the fifth step, you must have someone to listen to you. If you elect to take this journey, I strongly recommend that you work with a counselor or trusted friend through all twelve steps. I also suggest that you read the book Alcoholics Anonymous, which describes the A.A. program of recovery. As you read about the use of alcohol, keep an open mind and reframe the narrative to address “being 70 or 70 plus and seeking a joyful life.”
Let’s Get Started!
I will approach the “Twelve-Step Program for a Joyful Life” from a first-person perspective with many personal statements. As you follow along, I hope you will consider whether this is a journey that you would like to take. Let’s get started!
1. I am 70 years old. I am an attorney. I am powerless over my age and phase of my career—my life has become unmanageable as I face questions such as “When am I going to retire?” or “What am I going to do when I retire?” or “What am I doing now that I am retired?”
2. I came to believe that a Power greater than myself could restore me to sanity.
I am used to being in control. My law practice has allowed me to be …
…like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery, and the rest of the players in [my] own way. If [my] arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as [I] wished, the show would be great. Everybody, including [myself], would be pleased. Life would be wonderful.
But what happens when I am no longer the producer, director, and lead actor? Stepping from a challenging legal career, I certainly intend to be virtuous, considerate, patient, generous, even modest, and self-sacrificing. Much to my chagrin, I have to combat a not so favorable characteristic of being “self-centered and ego-centric”.
Selfishness is the root of my troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, I have stepped on the toes of others, and they have retaliated.
My troubles are basically of my own making–often as a form of “self-will run riot.” I must get rid of selfishness. God can make this possible.
I must quit playing God. It does not work. I am no longer the producer, director, and actor. God is the playwriter. Sincerely taking this position, God will provide what I need as long as I stay close and perform God’s work. With such footing, I will become less and less interested in myself, my plans and designs, and more interested in seeing what I can contribute to life. With God’s power, I enjoy peace of mind and can face life successfully, losing the fear of today, tomorrow, and the hereafter.
3. I have made a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understood Him or Her.
Referred to as the “Third Step Prayer,” I often recite:
God, I offer myself to Thee—to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always.
4. I made a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself.
As an attorney, I am good with checklists. I start every business day going over my checklist–my “to-do” list. I often motivate myself by working the checklist in any order I elect, except when deadlines move certain items to the top of the list.
But what about a checklist referred to as a “personal inventory”? You have to be kidding! My only experience with a personal checklist was when I joined “Weight Watchers.” I kept a daily journal of what I ate in an attempt to stay within the daily “allowed points.” Admittedly, the “food journal” worked. I lost weight, especially when I did not cheat on the food and points I wrote down. When counselors suggested that I keep a daily journal of my feelings, no pen touched a sheet of paper. Now I am asked to conduct a personal inventory in order to identify the flaws in my makeup which may sabotage a joyful life.
With my focus on “self,” the first offender to be addressed is “resentment.” With pen in hand, I write down who and what are the objects of my resentments. Once I identify these individuals or entities, I ask why I am resentful or even angry. Have these objects of my resentment negatively impacted my self-esteem, ambitions, or personal relationships? Am I holding a grudge?
The goal is to be free from resentment and anger. How do I achieve this goal? I must ask what is my role in the events that have placed these individuals or entities on my personal inventory, and what am I going to do about it? Retaliation and argument are not correct responses. This is my personal inventory; not the inventory of the listed parties. I must recognize where I have been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking, and frightened. I must admit where I was wrong and be willing to address the wrongs when possible. I must be hard on myself but always considerate of others.
5. I admitted to God, to myself, and to another person the exact nature of my wrongs.
With God’s guidance, I have completed my personal inventory. Now I must share my shortcomings with another person. Really?
As an attorney, I am all about my reputation. My word is my bond. I take my oath as an officer of the court seriously and embrace the Texas Lawyer’s Creed. I have earned my clients’ absolute trust in me. Now I am supposed to share my self-identified shortcomings with another person! Why? Because I must be entirely honest with somebody if I am going to live a long and happy life. Who? I must seriously consider with whom I will take this intimate and confidential step. It could be a “closed-mouthed, understanding friend,” a counselor, or a member of the clergy. It must be someone who is non-judgmental and understands their role in the process, especially his or her commitment to confidentiality.
6. I am entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Am I really ready to give up all my character defects? Let’s not forget the role of “self-centered and egocentric” in many of my successes. This presents a real dilemma for an attorney looking back over four decades of service to clients and the bar. A hefty dose of self-centeredness, or certainly self-assurance, fostered many leadership positions and CLE presentations. Now I am supposed to give up characteristics that I believe propelled my legal career. Undoubtedly the answer is yes because I want the end of my legal career and beyond to be a “joyful life.”
7. I humbly asked Him or Her to remove my shortcomings.
Now I say the “Seventh Step” prayer.
My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen
8. I made a list of all persons I have harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
In my personal inventory, I listed individuals who are the object of my resentment. Most importantly, I have identified my part in them making this list. Now I must be willing to make amends to these individuals. Why? Because my personal inventory is a checklist. We all know what attorneys do with checklists. We work through them and check them off! In this instance, I check individuals off as I contact them to apologize for any damage or hard feelings I have caused in the past.
9. I made direct amends to individuals wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
My skills as an attorney should assist in this step. I must only represent myself, offer only evidence implicating me, and make a closing argument based on contrition. I cannot expect him or her to acknowledge his or her role, especially since that person is not working a twelve-step program seeking a joyful life. I must be especially careful not to implicate others while I make my case for amends.
10. I continue to take personal inventory and, when I am wrong, promptly admit it.
Now what? Keep this up? Are you kidding me? Didn’t I give my “self-centeredness and egocentric self” to God as I understood him or her? By continuing to take personal inventory, I will grow in understanding and effectiveness for the rest of my life. This exercise will keep me on constant alert for “selfishness, dishonestly, resentment, and fear.” “Love and tolerance of others is [my] code.” Another powerful tool is a “gratitude list.” Listing the aspects of my life that I am thankful for is Exhibit #1, evidencing my joyful life.
11. I seek through prayer and meditation to improve my conscious contact with God as I understand Him or Her, praying only for knowledge of His or Her will for me and the power to carry that out.
Through prayer and meditation, I ask for the right thought or action. I must constantly remind myself that I am no longer running the show, humbly saying to myself during the day, “Thy will be done.” I am in less danger of excitement, fear, anger, worry, self-pity, or foolish decisions. I am much more efficient. I do not tire so easily because I am no longer the director, producer, and sole actor on life’s stage. I am committed to doing the “next right thing.”
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, I carry this message to others, and I practice these principles in all my affairs.
Carrying this message and practicing these principles in all my affairs will result in a “joyful life” exemplified by vitality, emotional well-being, positive social relationships, remaining active, and satisfaction with life.
Carrying this message and practicing these principles in all my affairs include service to others. Service to others takes varied forms. Mentoring law students and young attorneys and supporting access to justice are two of my favorite forms of service work!
My gratitude list provides a chronicle of my joyful life!
There is no prohibition in this twelve-step program from evangelizing for a “joyful life.” To encourage participation by others, I suggest revising the initial job posting.
Joy Is an Inside Job – Apply Today!
- Required: Completion of the “Twelve-Step Program for a Joyful Life.”
- Successful attorneys should have successful retirements.
- The skills that make a great lawyer should be used to make a great retiree.
- Individually define the job description to realize the joyful mission.
Sara E. Dysart | Texas Bar College Board Director and 12-Year Fellow, Joined 2012
Sara E. Dysart is a graduate of St. Mary’s University (BA magna cum laude & JD with distinction) and UTSA (MA). A sole practitioner in San Antonio, Texas, Sara is Board Certified in Commercial Real Estate Law and a fellow of the American College of Real Estate Lawyers. An advocate of State Bar of Texas CLE programs, Sara has served as course director for Advanced Real Estate Law, Advanced Real Estate Drafting, and Advanced Real Estate Strategies. She serves on CLE planning committees and is a frequent author and presenter. She is a member of the Board of Directors of Broadway Bank, the Texas Bar College, and local nonprofit organizations. She has been Chair of the State Bar of Texas Real Estate Forms Committee, Director of the State Bar of Texas, Co-Chair of the 2015 State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting, Council Member of REPTL, President of St. Mary’s Law Alumni Association, and Chair of the San Antonio Bar Foundation.
Chad is a graduate of the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. He completed the Judge Advocate Officer’s Advanced Course at the University of Virginia and is a Certified Forensic Loan Examiner. He assists clients with foreclosure and eviction defense, mortgage fraud, and predatory lending.
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Following a simple roadmap based on naturally available resources, organizing, and managing documents can alleviate much of the daily stress and pressure of litigation.
 This 2017 survey predates COVID and its significant impact.
 “Twelve-Step programs remain a commonly recommended and used treatment modality for various types of addiction. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) in its National Survey on Substance Abuse Treatment services from 2013, 12-Step models are used, at least occasionally, by approximately 74 percent of treatment centers.” Website American Addiction Centers.
 “12-step programs are powerful peer support groups that help people recover from substance use disorders, behavioral addictions, and sometimes other co-occurring mental health conditions. 12-step programs also help people achieve and maintain abstinence from substances. Though 12-step programs aren’t the right tool for everyone, they do tend to help those struggling with substance abuse issues acquire new coping skills, feel the support and acceptance of a loving community, transition into sobriety, and foster long-term recovery from addiction.” Website American Addiction Centers.
 The current version is Alcoholics Anonymous—Big Book 4th Edition. Known as the “Big Book,” the basic text of Alcoholics Anonymous has helped millions of people recover from alcoholism since the first edition appeared in 1939. Chapters describing the A.A. recovery program — the original Twelve Steps — and the personal histories of A.A.’s co-founders remain unchanged since the original, while new stories have been added to the personal histories with each edition.
 This journey may be useful as you encounter others who are in recovery. More importantly, you may be in a position to suggest and encourage seeking help through a 12-step program to someone struggling with an addiction.
 In the Chapter 4 “We Agnostics” of Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd Edition of the Big Book, the Basic Text for Alcoholics Anonymous, as the authors make the case for believing in a power greater than oneself, the following question is posed. “Do I now believe, or am I even willing to believe, that there is a Power greater than myself?” As soon as there is a positive response, there are assurances that recovery is possible.
 Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd Edition of the Big Book, the Basic Text for Alcoholics Anonymous. This quote and all references and quotes about the AA Twelve-Step Program throughout this paper is to this book.
 At the conclusion of the nineth step are the “promises”. The Big Book of Alcoholic Anonymous states:
If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experiences can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled amount us—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.