Voluntary buyouts for support staff are going viral within Biglaw — and that’s a good thing, at least compared to the alternative of layoffs. As we’ve previously observed, “voluntary retirement programs allow employees to self-select, so that employees who are well-situated to enter unemployment can opt in, while employees who need their jobs badly can keep working.”
Whether you should accept or decline your firm’s buyout depends on many factors. What kind of savings or other assets do you have? How generous is the package being offered? Do you have a spouse who still works? Do you have dependents who rely upon your income?
We heard from one retired legal secretary in response to our recent request for volunteers willing to discuss why they took or didn’t take a buyout. You can see why this secretary entered early retirement, due to an enviable financial position and a delicious package….
Here’s the short interview that we conducted with this former legal secretary.
DL: Congratulations on your retirement! Can you tell us a little more about your decision?
I recently received an inheritance, so that in combination with a large 401k allowed me to retire at 63 from my job as a secretary. My decision was partially motivated by the fact that I had so little to do — out of three associates, only one gave me any work — and I felt I was a prime candidate for layoff. When I received the offer packet in my inbox, within five minutes I had filled out the forms and placed it in my outbox.
If I had stayed, I would have liked to work in a secretarial services department like the one my firm has in at least one other office. I think that is the wave of the future, and it would have been fun to make it work.
DL: How long had you worked as a legal secretary before your retirement?
I was with the firm for 34 years.
DL: Did your firm give you any kind of retirement package, and if so, what was it like?
I received two weeks of severance pay per year of service, so I received 68 weeks of pay — doled out on a twice-a-month schedule, as if I were working during the 68 weeks — plus payment and continuance of all the benefits provided by the firm to employees currently employed by the firm during that period. I was also allowed to continue receiving health insurance to the end of the COBRA period as well as beyond that point as a retiree, with me paying approximately $600 per month.
I was grandfathered in for being allowed to keep health coverage in retirement per a letter I had received several years ago allowing this, since I had been with the firm for 10 years and was over 50 years old at the time of the letter. Younger employees or employees who hadn’t worked for the firm for 10 years were told that they would not be allowed to participate in the health plan in retirement.
DL: That sounds like a very generous package. But sometimes people don’t accept buyouts because of familial support obligations. Do you have a family or any other dependents?
I am a single person with no dependents.
DL: What advice would you offer to legal secretaries who are considering voluntary retirement?
If you’re busy at your job as a secretary and work for a productive partner and can’t afford to retire, keep working. If you can afford to retire, make your decision based on how much you enjoy your job versus what you’d like to do with your retirement.
DL: What advice would you offer to legal secretaries who get laid off and can’t afford to retire yet?
If you get laid off, take any job you can get that can reasonably support you. I’d specifically try to get a job in a secretarial services department at a firm since you’d definitely have enough to do. Otherwise, I’d try and work for a rainmaking partner.
DL: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Enjoy your retirement!