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BigLaw Firms End Mandatory Retirement

Posted Nov 7, 2007 1:13 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Another BigLaw firm has just announced that it will end its mandatory retirement program for lawyers, following a high-profile $27.5 million settlement in a law firm partner age discrimination case and an ABA recommendation against such policies.

Effective immediately, Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis will no longer require its senior lawyers to relinquish their equity partnerships at age 70, reports Legal Week.

"Our partners concluded that age-based limitations on partner status are anachronistic and out-of-step with enlightened views of productive older lawyers," says Peter Kalis, the firm's chairman and managing partner, in a press release.

The K&L policy change follows similar decisions at a number of major firms. Among them: Dewey & LeBoeuf and Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft have joined with other New York-based BigLaw firms in a New York State Bar Association program to end mandatory retirement, notes Legal Week.

As discussed in earlier ABAJournal.com posts, Sidley Austin agreed to a $27.5 million settlement last month with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, after litigating for several years the federal agency's claim that the firm discriminated against 32 of its own so-called partners by demoting them due to their age. (In fact, the 32 were partners in name only, the EEOC contended, and thus were employees protected by anti-discrimination laws.) The ABA House of Delegates voted in August at the ABA's annual meeting to recommend against law firm mandatory retirement policies.

Influenced by the ABA recommendation, an additional BigLaw player, San Francisco-based Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, decided soon after the ABA annual meeting to eliminate mandatory partner retirement at age 65, another ABAJournal.com post notes.

As a practical matter, "many partners are likely to retire sometime in their sixties or seventies, regardless of whether a firm has a mandatory retirement age policy," says Deborah Johnson, the Pillsbury firm's chief human resources officer. "By eliminating ours, we hope to retain some of the firm's most experienced and successful lawyers a bit longer and still pave the way for new classes of partners."

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