Law Practice Management

Hoping for (or dreading) an early retirement? It's the norm at many UK law firms

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Road cut by scissors

It’s not unusual for lawyers at top law firms in the United Kingdom to leave by age 55.

In the United Kingdom’s top 14 law firms, only 4 percent of partners are over the age of 60, the American Lawyer (sub. req.) reports. That finding comes from a survey by management consulting firm Jomati and financial advisory firm BoulterBowen WealthCare.

The survey found that half the partners at those 14 firms are at or below age 50.

Jomati principal Tony Williams is one of the authors of the survey report. “U.K. partnerships are generally much younger than those at American firms,” he tells the American lawyer. “As a partner at a U.K. firm, particularly the higher-end firms that are more focused on profitability, once you pass 50, you have to justify why you should remain.”

At one time, elite U.K. law firms required retirement at age 55, while other law firms set the mandatory retirement age at 65. The United Kingdom has abandoned its national default retirement age of 65, but a partner who challenged his law firm’s mandatory retirement policy did not succeed.

Many U.K. law firms have since increased or abandoned their mandatory retirement age. But more than 40 percent still have mandatory retirement, the survey found. And some firms that dropped mandatory retirement still require approval for partners to remain past a specified age.

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