By Murray Gottheil | June 5, 2023
Since professional firms are usually partnerships, the well-compensated people at the top of the pyramid are partners, not employees. As a result, all of that stuff that protects employees from discrimination on the basis of age in the Human Rights Code does not apply to them, at least where I live in Ontario, Canada.
With that over-simplified but pithy summary of the law, I have explained how partners in law firms can be squeezed out in their early sixties.
And out they are pushed! Sometimes, there is an express provision in their partnership agreement which requires them to vamoose when they reach a certain age. Other times they are treated poorly and denied accommodation until they want out.
But why? In what universe does it make sense to chase away your senior, experienced firm members and lose access to their talents and their contacts? Is management telling the truth when they say that they care deeply about making room for the next generation, or is that a load of horseshit?
It is mostly horseshit, covering up for greed, and resulting in age discrimination.
For various reasons, older professionals tend to work with less intensity than younger professionals. Perhaps they have often figured out that life does not go on forever and want to stop to smell the proverbial roses. Or maybe they have decided that a third divorce would be unaffordable. Or it could be that they do not have the energy or stamina that they had when they were younger. Or possibly the explanation is that they have nothing left to prove and they would rather spend some time travelling while they are still able to do so. It could even be that they just want to find someone to love them while they are still somewhat attractive.
On the other hand, these very same older professionals frequently have a wealth of skills, experience, insights, and contacts and a desire to keep busy on a part-time basis. You would think that the benefits of having them around would outweigh the detriments. (I won’t even get into the issue of loyalty because there is not much of that going around in professional firms any longer and I do not want anyone to die laughing at the antiquated notion that the newer partners owe something to the people who built their firms.)
So, at the same time that it is universally accepted in the legal profession that: (i) law schools and bar admission programs are just about useless in training young lawyers how to practice law; (ii) young lawyers usually do not have a clue as to how to market themselves; and (iii) very few partners are willing to take the time to mentor their junior lawyers, law firms are ushering the older, experienced lawyers out the door as soon as their billings slow down and their origination credits decline.
It is a hell of a stupid way to run a profession.
Oh, and I hear that the accountants are not much better at it.
Murray is a happily retired lawyer who lives in the country, drives a pick-up truck, writes, teaches and mentors. You can reach him at [email protected] or see what he is up to at lawanddisorderinc.com.