By Michelle Hunter
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
When I became deputy executive director of the state bar in 2005, I had a 6 year old and a 4 year old. By the time I retired after 4 years in that position and 9 as executive director, I had a sophomore in college and a senior in high school. Those 12 years, life was coming at me fast. When I retired in 2017, the senior in high school wasn’t really looking for extra attention from mom at that point. I found what many have found in retirement or fear when they think about retirement: a loss of identity that had been wrapped up in being a hard charging working parent. I was going about 150 MPH and went to what seemed like 0 mph overnight. The wall came up hard and fast.
There are others among us for whom retirement is like gently landing on a cloud. One colleague told me that after hearing others talk about difficult retirement transitions that she was embarrassed about how easily she had taken to retirement. I have known others who returned to their former positions or returned to them on a part time basis. I have seen that work situation work well for several friends. I, however, had always looked toward retirement as a second act where I would be free to follow the path wherever it took me. At first, that path was frequent napping and checking out different Austin breakfast taco places (my old standby, Juan in a Million, is still the best), but after a few months I realized I was at loose ends. Retirement life is now great, but I have been surprised that the successful transition took as much work as it did. A quote from former San Francisco quarterback Steve Young (apologies to the lifelong Cowboys’ fan to whom I am married) has rung true with me. Young said, “I always likened retirement to falling off a cliff, and then you have to kind of brush yourself off.”
When I dreamed about retirement, I would immediately think about financially affording it. Then I would contemplate alleviating the stress my career put on me. What I placed third, if at all, was emotionally and intellectually replacing the engagement that my career had provided to me. I knew that I did not want another job. I also knew that I loved to be around other attorneys and that I enjoyed an intellectual challenge. I was not totally without a plan. I first sought an appointment to the Texas Bar College Board from then State Bar of Texas President Tom Vick. I also pursued a long held interest in family law, specifically marital property rights law. I knew family lawyer Lisa Richardson of Round Rock as a smart and dedicated lawyer. I asked her if she would allow me to be an intern in her office and take on projects. Sure, it was a strange thing to do, but I have never particularly avoided doing unusual things and I was excited to do it.
This part of the story allows me to express my gratitude for a great benefit of being a Bar College member: the Online Library. The Online Library, a repository of more than 28,000 TexasBarCLE course articles spanning back to 1998, helped me immensely as I was starting out on my second act. I knew that attorneys considered it valuable but I had no idea how valuable it was. For example, I became a true fan girl of Charla Bradshaw’s articles pertaining to pensions in divorce. If I ever meet her, I am going to have her autograph the article. I enjoyed the work around marital property rights so much, I studied and passed the tests to be a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst.
Luckily, I didn’t only seek the refuge of work. I have always had a passing interest in horseback riding and had gone on slow trail rides on vacation, but now I wanted to gallop. I took horseback riding lessons and learned to gallop around an arena. I also had long been a history buff focusing primarily on the Civil War and World War II. After retirement, I took a wild swerve, stepped out of my history comfort zone and went to a weeklong seminar on ancient Athens at my husband’s alma mater. After my senior in high school went to college, I became a parent ambassador at his university so I could randomly pop up at his east coast campus handing out information and answering new parent’s questions (number one question: where is a good place to eat lunch?). I am now on the Penn State Parents Council and not only follow Longhorn football but also the Penn State football and Lacrosse teams. I now keep in better contact with my nieces and nephews, and offer solicited and unsolicited advice through text messages. When the pandemic hit, I reinvigorated my exercise routine and doubled down on getting healthier. I even ordered a color guard flag so I could exercise by doing the flag routines I had done in high school. I had always missed doing them but never before had the time or energy to track down a flag. The path does indeed have its strange and unusual side trails.
Staying involved with Bar work has been very important to my success in retirement. By learning a new practice area, and a sub-specialty within that area, I became eligible to be a member of the Texas Bar College. I was looking forward to the work and collegiality of the Bar College but once I saw the College’s programs up close, I became truly proud to be a member. This pride comes not only from being associated with 4,200 other Texas attorneys who have shown themselves to be consummate professionals and legal scholars but also because of the great things the organization is doing:
- The most astounding thing is the TexasBarCLE Online Library, an ongoing database of over 28,000 CLE course articles. An annual subscription is $295, but free to College members with their $75 annual membership fee.
- In addition to sponsoring quarterly webcast CLE courses, the Bar College sponsors an annual Summer School seminar designed to cover major practice areas and keep you up to date with the most recent changes in the law.
- The Bar College Endowment Fund strives to bridge the gap in Texas legal communities by underwriting projects that provide educational opportunities, such as the Oyez, Oyez, Oh Yay! education project. This essential project ensures Texas students and teachers have the resources they need to fully explore the important role of the judicial system in our country and state. In addition, the College provides grants to local and specialty bar associations and pro bono organizations that have limited resources, to help bring quality CLE activities to their area.
- The College Board participates in an annual service project during the Summer School seminar in July by assisting local charity organizations with school supplies, basic needs to crisis shelters, and education seminars to employees of local nonprofits.
I have been following the path wherever it has taken me for the last three years. It’s been fun revisiting the journey and knowing I couldn’t have predicted what it would look like. I hope the next three years bring more fun and evolution. I would love to hear any questions, comments, or stories you have about retirement at firstname.lastname@example.org. ♦
For all of you would-be retirees, don’t forget these membership categories.
Senior Status: A College member who has at least five years of consecutive membership in the College and who is 70 years of age or older will qualify for continued membership by maintaining at least 15 hours of CLE (half of the hours required for regular members) per College membership year.
Emeritus: Texas Bar College Fellows that have maintained membership for 30 or more consecutive years and are currently on Inactive Status with the State Bar of Texas receive Texas Bar College membership benefits complimentary on an annual basis.
1. The goal of your law practice is not to become a partner.