While businesses can no longer unilaterally require aging employees to retire, many law firms still have policies that force partners to retire at a certain age. The argument is that partners are owners of the business and not employees, placing them outside the reach of laws that prohibit employment discrimination based on age.
Such policies came into practice on the 1950s, as many law firms formalized partnership agreements. Mandatory retirement was a natural extension of seniority-driven lockstep compensation systems. New partners would climb the ladder to parity with other partners, and older partners would scale down — usually, starting at age 65 — until they retired at age 70.