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SAN FRANCISCO � The American Bar Association is calling on law firms to abandon their mandatory retirement policies. In a vote on Aug. 13 by the ABA’s House of Delegates at its annual meeting in San Francisco, the 413,000-member organization took the official position of urging law firms that require their attorneys to retire at a certain age to rethink those policies. Proponents of the measure argued that law firms with such policies operate contrary to almost every other workplace where mandatory retirement violates age discrimination laws. “We do not want to be perceived as having a separate set of rules,” said Andrew Susko, president of the Pennsylvania Bar Association. The resolution, which passed by an oral vote that to many attendees sounded like a close call, recommends that law firms discontinue such policies and that they evaluate senior partners individually based on performance criteria. One size fits all? Opponents of the resolution argued that the ABA should not tell law firms how to run their operations and should not second-guess agreements between a firm and its partners. “It supports a once-size-fits-all resolution. Firms are not cookie-cutter institutions,” said Esther Lardent, president and chief executive officer of the Pro Bono Institute at Georgetown University Law Center. 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. According to a 2005 study by Altman Weil, a law firm consultancy, 57% of law firms with 100 or more attorneys enforce a mandatory retirement age, which typically range from ages 65 to 75. The ABA resolution is a recommendation to law firms and does not have a legally binding effect.

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