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At age 70, Morrison & Foerster partner Melvin Goldman is still vigorously defending clients in securities cases. “The idea of peaking in your practice and then tailing off as you grow older isn’t always true,” he said. “For some you see a tailing off, and for others you don’t.” It’s a dilemma for many law firms: As their lawyers age, some still want to practice, sometimes at a still hours-intensive pace. Firms must decide how to keep these leading lights lit, while making room for new blood � and, at the same time, avoiding, or at least structuring, awkward conversations with once-stellar lawyers. The problem will only grow as Baby Boomers � many in excellent health � near retirement age. “We have a long-term demographic problem,” said Joseph Altonji, a law firm consultant with Hildebrandt International in Chicago. “There’s a lot of firms thinking about how do we maintain access to that talent and avoid an impossible economic scenario.” Large firms have phased out the partner pensions they used to offer. Today, big Bay Area firms employ a variety of older-partner strategies that range from automatically stripping equity-partner status at a certain age to making individual arrangements. Luckily for Goldman and other older MoFo luminaries, like James Brosnahan and Bruce Mann, they can keep their equity partner status until age 75 if they’re willing and able. At some other firms, de-equitization comes knocking at an earlier age, at which point partners can decide to retire altogether or remain as of counsel. At Thelen Reid Brown Raysman & Steiner, that age is 72, and at Bingham McCutchen, it’s 70, but with some flexibility.
‘I’m a member of AARP, and I took one of their tests that’s supposed to tell you if you are you ready to retire. When I added up the points at the end, it said I wasn’t ready.’

PAUL RENNE Cooley Godward Kronish

Heller Ehrman partners must give up their vote and equity stake earlier, at the age of 65. M. Laurence Popofsky, a former Heller chairman who now serves as a senior lawyer at the age of 70, said the policy helps the firm move forward, making room for new partners and new opinions. “I don’t think an old-timer should control the destiny of a law firm in the kind of legal market that we have today,” said Popofsky, an antitrust litigation luminary who joined Heller in 1962 when it housed just 25 lawyers (the firm now has 590). As for giving up his equity partner status, Popofsky said it’s no big deal. “It makes no practical difference at all,” he said. “Basically, I don’t think these forms mean that much.” Popofsky, like many older partners, now has more control over his schedule in his new role, and for him that’s meant fewer hours. He wouldn’t talk about whether it also means less money. At the height of his career, litigating huge antitrust cases for the likes of Visa USA, the Heller attorney racked up roughly 3,000 hours in a year. This year, it’ll be less than half that amount. Although he doesn’t enter a courtroom anymore, Popofsky is still busy writing briefs and counseling clients. “I have always enjoyed and still enjoy the combat of ideas, which is what I specialize in,” Popofsky said. At least two local firms � Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati � say they handle all retirement issues on a case-by-case basis. Law firm management consultant Richard Gary, of Tiburon’s Gary Advisors, applauds law firms for finding ways to keep older lawyers around. “Many of the lawyers whom I know and whom I observe in firms in the Bay Area may want to slow down as they grow older, but I’ve encountered very few people who want to retire completely,” Gary said. “These flexible work arrangements allow them to contribute and allow the firm to take advantage of the assets that these people represent, not only in terms of client relations, but in terms of the actual glue that holds the firm together.” Cooley Godward Kronish takes advantage of the vast experience of Cooley lawyer Paul Renne, 76, who has taken on a new role as the general counsel. “I’m a member of AARP, and I took one of their tests that’s supposed to tell you if you are you ready to retire,” Renne said. “When I added up the points at the end, it said I wasn’t ready.” A business litigator, Renne joined Cooley in 1964 after a turn in the Kennedy administration. He was the 14th attorney at a firm that has now grown to 550 lawyers. At age 70, Renne � who is married to former S.F. City Attorney Louise Renne � gave up his status as equity partner and became senior counsel, continuing in his practice area with a reduced workload. Earlier this year, he became general counsel for the firm and advises on matters such as client conflicts. Renne said he aims to work an average of 150 hours (no longer all of the billable variety) each month and said he is “reasonably compensated.” The firm would not comment on its retirement policy, saying it was confidential under its partnership agreement. Several other firms also declined to comment on their policies. The reluctance to talk may have something to do with the pending EEOC case against Sidley Austin in Chicago. The EEOC is seeking back pay on behalf of 31 partners it claims were demoted in 2000 to counsel status because of age, arguing that the partners should be considered employees, not owners, and should thus enjoy greater legal protections. Hildebrandt’s Altonji said the case has the attention of law firm leaders weighing new approaches to retirement. “There’s a lot of waiting because of the Sidley case,” he said. At MoFo, the existing policy is aimed at keeping high-performing lawyers around as long as possible. “People continue to be able to contribute at very significant levels and we continue to be very happy to have them here,” said Pamela Reed, a managing partner of operations at MoFo. After the age of 65, partners are evaluated on a year-to-year basis by the firm to determine whether they are still worthy of the title. Roles in management are also reduced at that age. At 70, partners are reclassified as senior partners and are in large part on a reduced schedule. Finally at 75, partners must trade in their partnership for a role as senior counsel if they wish to continue. Goldman, who is set to become a senior partner, hasn’t reduced his workload much and has been especially busy with work relating to the flood of backdating investigations. He said he used to work 2,200 to 2,400 hours a year, but has reduced his workload by 20 percent. “I’m just as excited as I was when I was a young lawyer,” said Goldman, who joined Mofo in 1965 when it was just a small 24-lawyer office (the firm now has 935 lawyers) and never left.

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