Law Firms

Highest UK Court Says Law Firms Can Set Mandatory Retirement for Partners

The United Kingdom’s Supreme Court has ruled that law firm partnerships may impose mandatory retirement for partners.

The opinion (PDF) remanded the case, however, for a determination whether a retirement age of 65 was justified, report Bloomberg News, BBC News and the Independent.

The lawyer challenging his forced ouster, Leslie Seldon, was managing partner of Clarkson Wright and Jakes between 1989 and 1993. In 2006, he was forced to retire at age 65 based on a clause in his partnership agreement.

Mandatory retirement in the United Kingdom was at one time deemed automatically justified if an employee was 65 years old, but the provision has been repealed. Under the old provision, employers were free to set a younger age, but it had to be justified. Now, any mandatory retirement age must be justified for both employees and partners, the opinion said.

The court said the mandatory retirement age at Seldon’s firm provided opportunities for younger lawyers to advance and limited the need to expel older partners based on their performance. The aims were legitimate, the opinion said.

The Independent quotes Claire Dawson, a partner at law firm Russell Jones & Walker, on the impact of the decision. “The Supreme Court decision in Seldon is disappointing given the recent abolition of the forced retirement of employees, since it upheld that a partner at a law firm could, in principle, be forced to retire at a given age. This would appear to undermine the government’s decision to abolish retirement ages in the first place. There were specific factors which applied to this small law firm in Kent, which will not be relevant to every organization.”

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