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Survey: Lawyers Split on Required Retirement

Posted Oct 11, 2007 12:57 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Although half of the law firms discussed in a recent survey have mandatory retirement policies, only a little more than one-third of the responding lawyers agree with such policies.

That suggests it may be time for law firms to rethink mandatory retirement, says James Cotterman, a principal of the Altman Weil legal consulting firm. Specifically, an Altman survey last month found that 38 percent of 521 responding attorneys agree with mandatory retirement, 46 percent disagree and 16 percent aren't sure, reports the Legal Intelligencer, in an article reprinted in New York Lawyer (reg. req.). The respondents were in management positions at law firms of all sizes.

Of those who agree it's a good idea for firms to require lawyers to retire, many felt firms should allow attorneys to retire later rather than sooner. "Of those who agreed with the policies, 41 percent thought 70 was the right age, 5 percent felt 65 was appropriate, 6 percent said 67 and 5 percent said 68," reports the Legal Intelligencer.

However, smaller firms tend to set 70 as the mandatory retirement age while bigger firms that require retirement say partners have to call it a career at age 65. (Although firms that require retirement may not permit equity partners to remain beyond a certain age, they may allow lawyers to continue working in another role, such as counsel.)

Only 4 percent of respondents say they never intend to retire. But 61 percent say they expect to work in some fashion, in either a legal or nonlegal job—and often part-time—after retirement.

“These findings may signal a change in retirement policy in U.S. law firms,” says Cotterman in a written statement. “As the baby boom generation nears retirement, many have already had a change in perspective. When younger, they knew that mandatory retirement was the right and proper way to manage the firm. Now that they are in their late 50s and early 60s, many have come to see this as possibly not the best approach for the good of the firm."

While older respondents obviously have a personal interest in ending mandatory retirement, "it may also serve the firm’s interests to retain the skills, wisdom and rolodexes of these veteran lawyers,” Cotterman says.

As discussed in an earlier ABAJournal.com post, the ABA has recommended against mandatory law firm retirement. Also, a recent enforcement action by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Sidley Austin should be considered when reviewing mandatory retirement policies.

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