YOU AND GOODBYE: Mandatory Retirement Policies Cut Careers Short, But
Proponents Say It's for the Best
Joan E. Lisante
the January 2005 ABA Journal page 31:
SOGG COULD SPEND a lot of time riding his beloved horse, Monte. But you
won't find him hanging around the stables any weekday soon.
The 69-year-old tax and estate attorney is hard at work at McCarthy
firm where he's been of counsel for almost five years--since he was
asked to leave his former firm because of a mandatory retirement policy.
Management at that firm, which asks partners to retire at 65, decided
that if they gave Sogg a pass, they'd have to do so for everyone. So
Sogg left at their request, taking much of his business with him to his
Mandatory retirement policies are a controversial part of law firm
management, particularly as the gigantic baby boom population ages. Yet
about 40 percent of large law firms have one, according to a 2004 survey
by Edge International, a legal management consulting firm. Of those
firms, most seemed pleased with the results: Seventy-nine percent were
not considering changing their current policy.
Such policies have a proponent in Thomas R. Wildman, a partner in the
office of Day, Berry & Howard. "Mandatory retirement policies
both promote the orderly transitioning of client relationships and
encourage lawyers to think positively about their lives beyond the
practice of law--at least the practice of law as they have known it for
much of their legal careers," he says.
That argument isn't persuasive at Nossaman Guthner Knox Elliott, a Los
Angeles-based firm with an 80-year-old general counsel and no mandatory
retirement policy. "There are many extremely capable attorneys who
remain at the top of their games into their 70s and even 80s," says
managing partner Scott De Vries of the firm's
office. "Knocking them out on an artificial basis is unfair to our
clients, our attorneys and them."
Forcing attorneys to leave at a specific age can hamstring a business,
too. Lawyer and former Sen. George Mitchell, named chairman of the board
of the Walt Disney Co. after a contentious board meeting last March,
will bump up against Disney's inflexible mandatory retirement age (72)
next August, and he could be barred from solving the corporate problems
he was tapped to fix.
Finances are often cited as a compelling reason for such policies. They
can allow a firm to avoid having to reduce the compensation of senior
partners or asking less productive older partners to leave the firm,
employment lawyer Joe Markowitz. "It's also a way of spreading the
wealth to younger partners and requiring clients to be passed along to
them as well," he says.
A QUESTION OF PASSION
THE DECISION ULTIMATELY DEPENDS ON A FIRM'S NEEDS. But passion for the
law and good health can allow an attorney to practice indefinitely. Some
lawyers, like Larry Levin, fault the legal profession itself for forcing
out its golden geese. "We as a profession have lost our way with
regard to using our imagination and intuition in running our
business," says Levin, a partner at Shor, Levin & DeRita in
"People don't retire from what they like. If a lawyer loves what he
does, never let someone like that go."
Of course, being forced to retire from the practice of law doesn't
necessarily mean a lawyer is being put out to pasture. Lawyers over 50
can still look forward to 20 to 30 years of vitality, says Melanie
Abbott, a professor at
who works with the Center for Third Age
Leadership, an organization that helps people find new opportunities
after age 50 and assists companies in maximizing productivity of
It looks like there are going to be lots of bored horses out there.
© 2005 American Bar Association