For many California lawyers, the notion of retirement is anathema. What's the point of life, after all, without the stress and strain of frantic clients, demanding judges, and challenging practice-management issues? To consider such questions on behalf of the curious, we've profiled a few boomer-era attorneys who have retired?and who are nevertheless thoroughly enjoying themselves. All of the attorneys described here learned valuable skills for their current work?whether as winemakers, activists, or chief priests?during their legal careers.
Law degree: UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law, 1968
Specialty: Redevelopment and low-income housing law
Career: Staff attorney, Oakland Redevelopment Agency, 1969?71; founder, Goldfarb & Owens (which became Goldfarb & Lipman in 1980), 1972?97.
Retired from law: 1997
Currently: Co-owner, Anomaly Vineyards
Running a vineyard was never on Steve Goldfarb's list of ways to spend his retirement. Rather, he had dreamed of owning a bed and breakfast?until his wife, Linda, nudged him away from that notion. "My idea was that I'd make breakfast for the guests and then hit the golf course," he says. "She worried she'd get stuck making beds and cleaning toilets."
So as the Goldfarbs worked on a plan better suited to them both, they thought they'd take it easy for a while after retiring from the firm where Steve was a founding partner and Linda was a paralegal. Soon enough, though, their second career found them. The Goldfarbs settled in the Napa Valley in 1997, and by the end of their first summer they noticed that the six rows of vines on their property had started to produce grapes. "My wife and I looked at the fruit and thought, 'We can't just let it rot,' " he says.
Relying on books they'd purchased, a hand-cranked de-stemmer and press, and a $35 barrel, the Goldfarbs made their first batch of Cabernet in the garage. Friends raved about the wine?and so did the wine experts at the local Dean & DeLuca gourmet shop. So over the next several years, the couple invested in the winemaking business, hired two full-time staff members, and became what Linda Goldfarb calls "accidental vintners."
Now Anomaly Vineyards sells about 1,000 cases a year?at about $75 a bottle. "They've worked very hard to produce a great-quality Cabernet," says Neil Aldoroty, a friend who owns a wine-cellaring and concierge service company. "The Goldfarbs have made the effort to pay attention to detail, but there are some who don't. Steve and Linda ... always strive for better wine and are not satisfied with the status quo."
Goldfarb says he's steeped himself in the winemaking business, acquiring knowledge with the same voraciousness he once brought to legal practice. "The specifics are different, but the approach is similar," he says. "You've got to be able to go in and learn as much as you can about the industry."
That said, Goldfarb's daily routine hardly resembles the life he led as a lawyer. Rather than fighting traffic for an hour and a half, his commute involves walking out of the house and into the vineyard. Rather than taking phone calls and holding meetings, his days are filled with manual labor: hauling grapes, shoveling out tanks, and shipping cases of wine. And he has had to adapt in a way he never used to: If it rains on a day he's set aside to pick grapes, for example, he has to rearrange his work schedule. "As a lawyer, you're always trying to control every aspect of a case," he says. "But now there are a lot of things beyond my control, and I've learned to like that. You can't control nature, and have to accept the fact that you can't control it." In the first seven years of his retirement, Goldfarb didn't return to his law office once. But since 2003, he has come back annually?always bearing a case of Anomaly Cabernet.
Law degree: UC Hastings College of the Law, 1971
Specialty: Labor law
Career: Staff attorney, Alaska Legal Aid, 1971?72, Alameda Legal Aid, 1973?74, and United Farm Workers of America and AFL-CIO, 1975?78; staff attorney and chief counsel, California School Employees Association, 1978?80; founding partner, Mocine & Eggleston, 1980?89.
Retired from law: 1989
Currently: Chief priest, Vallejo Zen Center
Mary Mocine's journey from labor lawyer to spiritual healer was a long one. After numerous years working for Legal Aid and representing the farmworkers union, she started her own practice in Oakland in 1980. But in the winter of 1987, Mocine was struck with Epstein-Barr virus. That illness, followed by the deaths of her parents two years later, prompted her to take stock. She started visiting the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center in Marin County and then attended a retreat. "It was like coming home," says Mocine, who'd been raised as a Theosophist but abandoned spirituality during her college years at UC Berkeley. In 1989 she left her law practice to study Zen Buddhism.
Today she runs her own temple in hardscrabble Vallejo in the North Bay. About 30 people attend meditations each month at the temple, housed in one unit of the four-plex apartment building Mocine purchased in 1999. In addition, she leads retreats for lawyers at Green Gulch Farm and Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in Carmel Valley, co-leads a retreat at Spirit Rock, also in Marin, and runs the Dharma Group for Lawyers in Berkeley and San Francisco.
"It's a place where I can talk to other attorneys about how to integrate their spiritual life with their practice," says Julia Ten Eyck, a lawyer who participates in the monthly Dharma sessions. "We talk about how to practice law in a way that is consistent with and integrates our spiritual?mostly Buddhist?values and ethics."
Mocine says her legal experience helps her relate to the lawyers in her meditation groups. "I know what it's like to lose my temper at opposing counsel, and to hang up the phone with a knot in your stomach because you realize you've just been rude to someone," she says.
To be sure, Mocine doesn't pine for her days in the legal profession. "Labor law really is like class warfare," she says, bemoaning the erosion of workers' rights that she witnessed during her legal career. But she does fondly remember the strategizing she did at union board meetings, which she likens to playing chess. "I miss the camaraderie and the people," she says.
Law degree: Harvard Law School, 1969
Specialty: Environmental law
Career: Attorney and directing attorney, Legal Aid Society for San Mateo County, 1970?80; founding partner, Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo, 1980?98.
Retired from law: 1998
Currently: President of the Board, California League of Conservation Voters
Tom Adams is equal parts idealist, policy wonk, and outdoor enthusiast. He credits John F. Kennedy for inspir-ing him to enter public-interest law; he understands the minutiae of environmental regulation; and he spends vacations hiking the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada.
In retirement, he's found an activity at the nexus of these three interests. Since 2001 Adams has served as board president of the California League of Conservation Voters, a political group that backs pro-environment candidates. He spends about 20 hours weekly raising money, leading board meetings, and helping craft legislation. "Tom is probably the most engaged board president I've ever worked with," says Susan Smartt, the organization's executive director.
When Adams retired from his environmental-law practice in 1998, he wasn't sure which of his many interests would engage his time. "It wasn't something I worried about," he says. "I have a lot of interests, and I saw retirement as a period of discovery to explore those interests." He'd been asked to join the League's board in 1995, and gradually the League began to dominate his time.
Adams's legal experience has been key to his success as board president. Politicians turn to him when drafting environmental bills. His legal connections have helped him win the support of the labor community for critical environmental initiatives. "Tom is able to pick up the phone and call the right people in the community," says Smartt. "My experience with board chairs has been that the good ones provide leadership, they fund-raise, and they do overall governance, but I've never encountered anyone who is so knowledgeable about the actual laws and substance of the organization."
Adams says nonprofit activism has been a refreshing change from a career spent advancing other people's cases. "It's tremendously liberating to be working with a nonprofit, as opposed to representing clients," he says. "To step back and have the opportunity to think about and articulate your own views is a liberating experience."
Another thing he doesn't miss about the law is the stress. "About six months after I retired, I just realized how good I felt," he says. "As a lawyer, you build up a certain tolerance for stress, but when you retire it just washes out of your system."
Barbara A. Brenner
Law degree: UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law, 1981
Specialty: Political and public-policy law
Career: Clerk for U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson, 1981?82; associate, Remcho, Johansen & Purcell, 1982?86; partner, Hitchens & Brenner, 1986?90; special counsel, Remcho, 1990?92; partner, Remcho, 1993?95.
Retired from law: 1995
Currently: Executive director, Breast Cancer Action in San Francisco
One day in 1994, Barbara Brenner sat in front of her computer and drafted a letter to the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. It was a personal appeal for more funding for breast cancer research, the disease with which Brenner had recently been diagnosed. But the letter turned out to be more than that?it was also the start of a new career.
After reading Brenner's letter in the Chronicle, the board president of Breast Cancer Action (BCA), a San Francisco?based advocacy group, asked the public- policy litigator to join the organization's board. Brenner, then on medical leave from Remcho, Johansen & Purcell, began writing for BCA's newsletter. Within a year, she left a profession she greatly enjoyed to join a cause about which she is passionate.
"If I'd never been diagnosed with breast cancer, I'd probably still be practicing law," says Brenner, now BCA's executive director. "I'm not one of those people who thought practicing law was a burden. I didn't go from something, I went to something."
Brenner has always had an impulse for advocacy work. After quitting law school at Georgetown University in her twenties?disillusioned by how little her legal education had to do with justice?she spent time working for the Women's Rights Project at the ACLU of Southern California. Later, Brenner returned to law school?this time at Boalt Hall?and pursued a career in political and public-policy law that, she says, was a first-rate education in how to ask tough questions.
That skill has made Brenner particularly well suited to lead BCA, a small nongovernmental organization that not only declines donations from pharmaceutical companies but also has a reputation for ruffling feathers everywhere, from the FDA to big-name cancer charities, by asking them, for example, to account for how they spend their money.
"Barbara's training as a lawyer, as well as her being so well informed, makes her a very strong debater," says Jane Sprague Zones, a member of BCA's board, adding, "I don't think I've ever seen her lose an argument."
Though Brenner says she has found nonprofit work to be her perfect fit, she wouldn't recommend it to everyone. Passion for the cause is a prerequisite, she says, and so too is knowledge of the field. She suggests that anyone interested in nonprofits volunteer first to get a taste of what the work is like. And Brenner warns that lawyers who think nonprofit work will be slower paced are sorely mistaken. "I've never worked so hard in my life," she says.
Caroline Preston (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C.