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Bar News - November 23, 2007

Survey Explores Lawyer Retirement Policy

In the newly released Altman Weil Flash Survey on Lawyer Retirement, only 38% of lawyers agree with the enforcement of mandatory retirement provisions in law firms.  However, 50% of respondents report that their firms currently have mandatory retirement policies.


“These findings may signal a change in retirement policy in US law firms,” observed Altman Weil principal James D. Cotterman.  “As the Baby Boom generation nears retirement, many have already had a change in perspective.  When younger, they knew that mandatory retirement was the right and proper way to manage the firm.  Now that they are in their late fifties and early sixties many have come to see this as possibly not the best approach for the good of the firm.  This change in perspective is rational as their vested interests have changed; however, it may also serve the firm’s interests to retain the skills, wisdom and rolodexes of these veteran lawyers.”


The Altman Weil Flash Survey on Lawyer Retirement, conducted in September 2007, includes responses from 521 lawyers in management positions in US law firms, comprising 28% from firms with 50-99 lawyers, 35% from firms with 100-249 lawyers, 17% from firms with 250-499 lawyers and 20% from firms with 500 or more lawyers.


Mandatory Retirement Policies


Fifty percent of survey participants report that their firms currently have mandatory retirement provisions.  In firms with 50-99 lawyers, only 32% have such a policy. 


In all firms where retirement is mandatory, 38% mandate retirement at age 65, 36% at age 70, six percent at age 67 and five percent at age 68.  In smaller firms (in the 50-99 lawyer category) that have mandatory policies, the most common retirement age is 70, while in all other size categories, firms are most likely to mandate retirement at 65.


Support for Mandatory Retirement


When asked if they agree or disagree with the enforcement of mandatory retirement provisions in law firms, 38% agreed, 46% disagreed and 16% were not sure.  Of those who agreed, 41% thought 70 was the most appropriate age for mandatory retirement.  An additional 31% saw 65 as the correct age; six percent chose 67; and, five percent named 68 as the appropriate age for mandatory retirement.


“It’s no surprise that the lowest support for mandatory retirement is found among older lawyers,” noted Cotterman.  “Lawyers in smaller law firms and female lawyers were also less likely to support mandatory retirement.”


Individual Expectations


Twenty-seven percent of lawyers surveyed said they plan to retire early (i.e. before their Social Security retirement age).  Twenty nine percent plan to retire at retirement age; 29% plan to retire later; four percent never plan to retire; and, 11% are unsure. 


The majority of respondents (61%) plan to continue working in some capacity after retirement.  Of those who continue to work, 48% will continue to practice law and 35% will pursue another line of work.  Seventy-five percent will work part-time.


The desire to continue in the practice of law is inversely proportionate to the size of firm in which a lawyer works, according to the survey.  Sixty-seven percent of lawyers in firms with 50-99 lawyers plan to continue practicing either full- or part-time.  The same is true of 44% of lawyers in firms with 100-249 lawyers, 38% of lawyers in 250-499 lawyer firms and only 34% of lawyers in 500+ lawyer firms.


Male and female lawyers show clear differences in their retirement planning.  Men are more likely to plan on a later retirement, while women are more likely to retire early or at retirement age.  After retirement, men are more likely to continue working in the profession, while more women plan to work in other areas.


The primary reason given for continuing to work after retirement is a mixture of income and staying active (48%).  The second most common reason is simply to stay active (40%).  Eight percent listed other reasons, chief among them to “give back” to the community.  Only 3.5 percent indicate they would continue to work primarily for income.


The full report appears on the Altman Weil Web site at






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