Law Practice

'Retired' Partners Rehired at Other Firms

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In the last decade or two, requiring law firm partners to retire at a certain age has become a common practice. But now the tide seems to be turning on that trend.

The median age of lawyers is increasing, and, although more than half of the nation’s larger law firms require partners of a certain age to retire, according to one recent survey, a growing number are rethinking this policy. In fact, some are hiring new partners in their 60s, or even 70s, as they retire from competing law firms, reports New York Lawyer (reg. req.) in a reprint of an American Lawyer story.

Meanwhile, the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates voted at the ABA Annual Meeting in August to recommend that law firms with mandatory retirement policies rethink them.

Depending how an ongoing age discrimination case against Sidley Austin by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is decided, it could be a significant factor in law firm decision-making on mandatory retirement. As discussed in an ABA Journal cover story, the EEOC contends partners at the firm are actually employees and hence protected by age discrimination laws.

Money is driving the decision-making where mandatory retirement policies exist, says James Matthews III, an employment lawyer at Fox Rothschild who represents law firms. “The younger people want to make more money,” he tells American Lawyer. “The senior people have been making money for a long time, and for the young people to make more, the old people need to go. It is just as mercenary as it sounds.”

However, some firms see a financial benefit to retaining—or even recruiting—senior partners. For instance, several well-known firms vied last fall for William Carmell, 67, as he reached mandatory retirement age at Winston & Strawn, the article notes. He is now at Ford & Harrison, helping the labor and employment boutique establish a stronger presence in New York.

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