In this week’s Connecticut Law Tribune, employment lawyer Gary Phelan revisits an old post that I did way back in March 2008 about mandatory retirement policies at law firms.
Back then, I noted the strange disconnect that sometimes exists between law firms and clients. Why? Because historically, law firm partners have been treated as owners and employers and therefore not covered by age discrimination laws. However, as I noted back then, the prevailing wisdom was being challenged and even the American Bar Association chimed in discouraging such practices.
In Phelan’s article, he expounds further on that suggesting that law firms sometimes miss the point:
[B]y focusing on the threshold “bona fide” partner issue, law firms often fail to examine three vital questions: Do bona fide partners still have any legal basis to challenge these policies? Are mandatory age retirement policies the “right” thing to do? Are there alternative ways to enable law firms to accomplish the business-related objectives underlying these policies other than forcing lawyers to retire or give up their equity status at a certain age?
Phelan does acknowledge that there are some legitimate reasons behind the practice, "such as transitioning responsibilities for clients and providing leadership opportunities to younger partners." But he quickly notes that "other industries also routinely face these challenges" without having to resort to mandatory retirement practices.
I noted back in 2008 that changes to these types of policies would not occur overnight. And they haven’t. But as society’s notion of what is "old" continues to change, I expect we’ll continue to see incremental changes in law firm practices here as well.