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Law Firms Face New Rules on Retirement

  Legal Business  -   POSTED: 2007/11/28 10:05

With hordes of attorneys poised to assume senior status, achieving a consensus among partners to ditch mandatory retirement policies is just the first step -- and perhaps the easiest -- in switching to what many say is a fairer system.

Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis recently did it, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman made the change, and others are expected to follow. And while these firms report that reaching the decision to abandon age-based retirement was relatively painless, implementing a merit-based system for evaluating older attorneys will not be a simple feat for most.

"It takes time for people to internalize what this means," said Deborah Johnson, a member of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman's executive committee and the firm's chief human resources officer.

Pillsbury Winthrop in April decided to get rid of the provision in its partnership agreement that, in general, created a rebuttable presumption that when lawyers turned 65 it was time for them to give up full equity status.

In light of the firm's decision, Johnson has worked with other firm leaders to devise a system that provides flexibility but holds attorneys accountable for their contributions. She estimates that the change affects about 10 percent of the firm's partners.

The full results of the decision at the 755-attorney firm will take at least a year to realize, Johnson said. In the meantime, the firm is operating under its newly implemented program that includes refined partner evaluations, stated goals from senior partners, revised financial planning services and an increased role for career consultants in working with "seniors." The firm defines seniors not by their age but by year of service. It considers as seniors those who have practiced for 25 years or more.


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