Two years ago, when Irell & Manella’s Morgan Chu hit 65, his partners were more than happy to make an exception to the firm’s mandatory retirement policy. After all, Chu’s not just an uncontested giant in intellectual property and patent law; he’s also been Irell’s chief rainmaker for decades. Lately, other firms have adopted a similarly more relaxed attitude toward retirement. That’s good news for baby boomers.
In 2015, close to half of AmLaw 200 firms reportedly had a mandatory retirement policy. While some firms (notably at the top of the charts) cling to strict policies, the subject is not as black-and-white as it once was.
These days, many firms are in fact creating fresh opportunities for attorneys in their sixties. A few months ago, we facilitated a senior partner’s move into the New York office of an AmLaw-50 firm. Because of his depth of specialized expertise, that lateral partner has driven a major expansion in the firm’s litigation practice. Separately, in January, Reed Smith welcomed to its New York office Louis M. Solomon, who stepped into a newly created role as head of international litigation-US. Solomon brought along with him two other partners who had also followed him out of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft to Greenberg Traurig in 2016. According to Reed Smith’s announcement, its new “senior trial team” has “practiced together for more than 20 years.” For firms seeking to round out generic practice groups with specialized expertise, such lateral partner hires make amazing sense.
In our experience, successful senior partner transitions require the following:
- Law firms must clearly articulate to lateral candidates how their unique practices and experiences will fit within the firm’s strategic plan. At the same time, attorneys in the affected practice groups should have a genuine appreciation for the senior partner’s skill set and experience, as well as an understanding of the partner’s anticipated role in leadership, management, and growth.
- For senior partners considering a move, it’s important to find a firm that offers a renewed sense of purpose and fulfillment. Senior lateral partners thrive when they feel that they’re becoming valuable players in building something new, and that they will be appreciated for their contributions.
A final note on the not-so-secret practice of firms docking senior partner compensation: It happens! While most partners affected by such pay cuts can find themselves of greater value in the lateral market, in cases where a partner’s compensation has decreased by less than 10-15 percent, a later-in-life lateral move might not make sense. In our experience, the most successful lateral partner moves hinge not exclusively on money, but also on new opportunities for professional growth and career fulfillment.
In any instance, if you’re a senior partner or a law firm seeking lateral partner candidates, we’d like to hear from you. We’ll give you our unvarnished thoughts and advice. It should also go without saying that we understand the sensitive nature of such discussions, and we place an extreme emphasis on confidentiality.