Lawyers in the Third Age: Changing Course to be an ADR Thought Leader

By Melanie B. Abbott, Associate Professor of Law, Quinnipiac University School of Law  

At first blush, the paradoxes of the Third Age seem inconsistent with the image many people have of lawyers: hard-driving, acquisitive, confrontational.  Lawyers in practice live lives full of hard edges.  However, just beneath the surface of many successful lawyers lies a wealth of desire for other forms of expression.  Many lawyers, reaching the traditional ‘retirement’ stage, seek new avenues for those impulses. 

One such lawyer is Harry, who retired five years ago from a top administration position in one of Connecticut’s largest insurance companies.  During his forty-one-year career in practice, he worked as a litigator in a law firm, served as town attorney, and acted as legislative commissioner for the state of Connecticut before moving  in-house to be counsel at the insurance company for twenty-five years, where he became a corporate officer. 

Recognizing the need for alternatives to costly, protracted litigation, Harry discovered alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”), the legal profession’s name for mediation and arbitration in many different forms.  Given an opportunity to design, implement and oversee an in-house ADR program, he became active in  the growing national ADR movement, getting in on the ground floor.  After implementing several ADR programs within the in-house practice of the insurance industry, Harry sought new ADR opportunities outside the industry.  

Harry left the corporation, intending to research and write about ADR and to share his experience as a thought leader within the national ADR community.  At the same time, Connecticut’s youngest law school was in the process of developing a Center for Dispute Resolution.  It was a natural fit, and Harry has been a part of the Center’s leadership ever since.  As the Distinguished Professor of Dispute Resolution Law from Practice, Harry writes, teaches, and works with others in the regional and national dispute resolution communities to increase lawyers’ awareness of, and skill in using, dispute resolution techniques in law practice.

Even in this phase of his career, Harry sees a progression.  He’d like to spend another couple of years as a thought leader, helping others in academic and practice settings structure the debate about the ways in which ADR can be implemented as a litigation alternative.  After that, he sees a role for himself as a mediator, leading a team in applying the fruits of the Center’s research to disputes.  And still later, he’ll continue to have a productive part to play, as a member of a mediation team led by a next-generation leader.   

To Harry, this path fulfills a need he explored while still active in corporate bar associations. “We considered the idea of a ‘wise counselor’ role for seasoned lawyers,” he said.  Now, outside the corporation but still active in teaching, reading writing, and leading, Harry is charting a path for future Third Age lawyers.

  Copyright 2004 Melanie B. Abbott and The Center for Third Age Leadership, LLC