ALM Properties, Inc.
Page printed from: http://www.law.com
Select 'Print' in your browser menu to print this document.
Law Firm Retirement Policies Expected to Be Hot Issue at Annual ABA MeetingMore than 9,000 attorneys, judges and other legal types will meet in San Francisco for the ABA's 130th annual meeting this week. Besides hosting U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer as the keynote speaker, the organization will take up issues ranging from state secrets privileges to law firms' mandatory retirement policies. The latter issue has received particular attention because of an EEOC action filed against Sidley Austin on behalf of about 30 former partners.
The National Law Journal2007-08-07 12:00:00 AM
Forty years ago, it was San Francisco's Summer of Love. This year, it's the Summer of Lawyers.
More than 9,000 attorneys, judges and other legal types will come together in the City by the Bay for the American Bar Association's 130th annual meeting from Aug. 9 to 14.
Besides hosting U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer as the keynote speaker, the organization also will take up issues ranging from law firms' mandatory retirement policies to state secrets privileges at its House of Delegates meeting.
The six-day event, which includes a legal-wares expo and dozens of hours of legal education, is the largest yearly gathering among the ABA's 413,000 members.
One of the initiatives ABA President Karen Mathis has pushed this year is the Second Season of Service, in which she has called upon lawyers to stay active in the profession by providing pro bono work once they retire.
By some estimates, a full quarter of the country's 1 million attorneys -- or 250,000 -- will be at least 65 by 2011.
"These are still vibrant people," she said.
The aging attorney population is also the focus of a proposed resolution that the House of Delegates is expected to vote on during its session on Aug. 13 to 14.
Proposal 10A calls for law firms to discontinue their mandatory retirement policies and, instead, to evaluate senior partners individually in a manner "consistent with the firm's performance criteria."
Submitted with the proposal is a report on law firm mandatory retirement policies issued in March by the Special Committee on Age Discrimination of the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA). The report considered such factors as the growth of the profession from 300,000 in 1960 to 1 million currently, the huge increase in the size of law firms, the lengthening of the lifespan and health of senior lawyers and the elimination of age-based retirement policies in most other business sectors. The report then concluded that law firms should abandon mandatory retirement.
"It's out of step with the times," said Mark Alcott, immediate past president of the NYSBA.
The issue of mandatory retirement has received particular attention because of a lawsuit pending against Sidley Austin. Law firms are anticipating a decision from the U.S. district court in Chicago in an action filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of about 30 former partners against Sidley Austin over whether its alleged retirement policy violated age discrimination laws.
Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy Chairman Mel Immergut said his firm, which has a mandatory retirement policy, considered the NYSBA report when it came out and decided that the policy at his firm was appropriate.
"However, we would certainly pay careful attention to any additional learning that comes from the ABA or any other responsible organization on this subject," Immergut said.
Mathis, who is a partner in the Denver office of Morristown, N.J.-based McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, said that she liked to "listen to the debate," but that she favored abolishing the retirement policies.
"It's an arbitrary age limit that doesn't look at vitality, intelligence and the ability to perform a job," she said.
CAPABLE LAW STUDENTS
Particularly controversial is a move by the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar that creates a quantitative standard regarding the responsibility of law schools to produce students who are capable of passing the bar exam.
In an 11th-hour decision, the executive committee of the council for the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar decided to recommend that the council withdraw the matter for consideration by the House of Delegates until the ABA's February 2008 meeting.
Among other things, it would require a school to show that, in at least three of the past five years, first-time test takers passed the state bar at a rate no more than 10 percentage points below the average pass rate of test takers from other accredited schools in the same state.
Also, schools in which more than 20 percent of their graduates take the bar exam for the first time in another state would need to demonstrate that at least 70 percent passed during the two most recent bar exam periods.
As an alternative to the first criterion, schools would need to demonstrate that 80 percent of their graduates who took the exam anywhere in the country passed within three attempts, within three years of graduation.
Dozens of law deans have voiced their opposition to the proposal in letters to the ABA. William Rakes, chair of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, said that the new rule was prompted by the ABA's bid with the U.S. Department of Education to renew the ABA's law school accrediting authority. Rakes is a partner at Gentry Locke Rakes & Moore in Roanoke, Va.
"The Department of Education feels that in order to ensure consistency in the application of standards, they need to have a precise, bright line," Rakes said in a July interview.
Another proposal pertains to individuals seeking admission to practice who have undergone past treatment for addiction or mental health. Proposition 117 would have all admissions authorities (generally individual states) implement conditional admission for otherwise eligible candidates who have received prior treatment for emotional difficulties or substance abuse.
"This isn't about getting shaky people admitted to the bar. It's about keeping people healthy and fruitful members of the bar," said Richard Soden, chairman of the ABA's Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and a partner at Goodwin Procter in Boston.
Also scheduled for a vote are several proposals related to youth-at-risk, a focus for Mathis this year. One calls for the legal community to support programs for youth who "age out" of foster care at age 18. Another encourages support for placing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in homes that are LGBT-friendly.
Still another proposal calls for the ABA to support an amendment to federal law that would include children in homeless assistance programs.
Also slated for a vote is a proposal calling for judicial independence, another urging courts to avoid dismissing cases based on the state's secrets privilege and another supporting the regionalization of disaster-preparedness agencies.
The House of Delegates is composed of 546 delegates, with representatives from each state. The U.S. attorney general and the director of the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts also hold seats. Its measures serve as the voice of the members, who make up the largest trade organization in the world.
Replacing Mathis, whose one-year term expires at this year's meeting, as ABA president is William Neukom, a partner at Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis and former executive vice president of law and corporate affairs at Microsoft Corp.