One nice thing about being a lawyer is that you can work well into your seventies (or eighties!) if your health holds up and you want to. With the economy being the way it is, some of us are facing that prospect.
Some of the sharpest lawyers I know are "up there" in age. They have forgotten more than I will ever learn and are like the old prince of the forest. Many are old school - still with booming, theatrical voices and the ability to mesmerize. You don't see too many queens of the forest but that may be because women didn't start filling the legal ranks until about forty years ago. And a lot of them gravitated to other types of law back in the day.
At the same time, when it comes to elderly courthouse attorneys (and I am talking about a specific TYPE of attorney), I know even more who are past their prime. I don't think it is inevitable to lose your luster, rather, I suspect that most sharp courthouse attorneys simply reach a point where they don't need to work and/or would rather do something else. They move on. They may still practice law but many decide they will do it from an office instead of the courthouse.
But some... linger.
Many of the ones lingering never really got a strong practice going. They may not be able to retire, financially. But many of them seem to simply not have anything else to do. They may be widowed. They arrive early in the morning for their coffee with their colleagues in the courtroom cafeteria. You'll see them at lunch. Some are hard of hearing. In fact, most are hard of hearing. They can tell you what happened in 1982 but don't have much interest or knowledge of what is going on in the world, today. Many appear to simply be going through the motions and when I see them take on a difficult case, a part of me worries about whether their client is being adequately represented.
I've seen judges deliberately steer "easy" cases to these attorneys if they are on the court-appointed list. I recall one time being quite aggravated with a judge who'd scheduled me on a day I had not committed to. In that instance, the case should have gone to another attorney but he gave it to me, instead. It caused me a great deal of frustration and inconvenience and I had to cancel a mini vacation to cover a day I never agreed to in the first place. I normally don't get exasperated with judges - it just isn't professional and is counterproductive even internally - but in this instance I snapped at the clerk and let him know in no uncertain terms that I didn't think this was "fair." (sometimes I regress to age 11 -I admit it). The clerk listened politely then simply said, "It was you or 'Aunt Bea.'"
"Oh," I said, "Okay, then."
"Aunt Bea" should have retired two decades ago. Maybe three. She was in poor health and was afraid of her delinquency clients. The judges continued to send cases to her but she often didn't work them. She showed up at court and three times in a two year period I ended up introducing her wards to her - and each time, I was not even in the case. In each instance, I was simply in the area and spotted her milling around amid agitated parents and scared kids who hadn't been contacted and don't know who their lawyer was. When I saw her in the courtroom, she was lowkey but adequate. She'd mainly stand up to say, "I agree with the prosecutor," or "Thank you, your honor."
I thought about saying something but she kept saying she was retiring and I kept thinking she was. I haven't seen her in several months so perhaps she went ahead and turned in her license. Or died or something. I think I would have heard about that, however.
I knew another lady lawyer who held on a very long time but other than just sort of being sour and not "giving a shit," about her "low-life clients" (this is a common quote from criminal defense attorneys), she did great. She dyed her hair a hot red and swam three miles a day. She wore mini skirts, which I want to admire but in her case, I wish she hadn't (although truth be told, she looked better in them than I would). She was in her mid seventies but looked a lot younger. She had on again/off again flings with some old boy in St. Louis (and one in Cleveland) and there seemed to be quite a bit of drama going on in her personal life. If a 75 year old woman could reek pheromones, she did. The woman could make me blush with just an eyebrow twisted in a certain provocative way.
One day, she showed up to court with shocking gray hair and announced that she was, "sick of this shit."
Never saw her again. She could have been one of those Queens of the Forest if she'd wanted to. She decided she'd rather play with her grandson. Or so she said. Who knows, maybe she really ran off to Cleveland. More likely, she abandoned Mr. St. Louis and Mr. Cleveland and ran off to be a rockette.
This old girl is not going to be an old Queen of the Forest OR an Aunt Bea. I am not sure what I am going to do in ten years or so but those aren't options. I'm thinking Wal-Mart Greeter or feed store clerk.