Law Firm Mandatory Retirement Policies Bring Lawsuits, Defections

Eugene D’Ablemont is 79 years old and still practicing law at Kelley Drye & Warren, though he doesn’t have the compensation and status he would like.

In January, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a suit on behalf of D’Ablemont that challenges Kelley Drye’s policy of e-equitizing partners at age 70. The suit follows a similar EEOC complaint against Sidley Austin that settled three years ago.

Lawyers are closing following the D’Ablemont case, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) reports. “The retirement issue is expected to begin cropping up more frequently” as a growing number of Baby Boomer lawyers buffeted by the weak economy fight to retain their partnerships, the story says.

The newspaper interviewed 65-year-old James Hunt, who formed a law firm with five other partners after failing to persuade Mendes & Mount to change its retirement policy. “Sixty-five is the new 55,” Hunt said, “and there’s no doubt that I intend to continue working.”

In court, Kelley Drye argues D’Ablemont isn’t protected by age discrimination laws because he was a partner and not an employee. It also contends the lawyer’s compensation was fair, given his actual billings and free legal services provided by the law firm.

Nonetheless, the law firm has since changed its policy, the story says. D’Ablemont, however, has refused his firm’s offer to restore him to partnership because, he says, the firm couldn’t guarantee that he’d get back his equity stake.

The story cites a 2007 survey that found 58 percent of U.S. law firms with more than 100 lawyers have mandatory retirement policies. Some firms, however, are taking steps to drop or relax their mandatory policies. They include Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, K&L Gates, and Williams Kastner.

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