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Law firms may be allowed to enforce a compulsory retirement age policy in certain circumstances – but in doing so they must navigate a legal minefield

Partnerships may be able, in their own particular circumstances, to justify the adoption of a compulsory retirement age for partners. However, City and national firms which are run primarily on modern corporate, performance-based models would be unwise to rely too heavily on the reasons cited in the recent Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) decision in Seldon v Clarkson Wright & Jakes to justify their compulsory retirement age rule.

Instead firms need to identify whether they have, in their own particular circumstances, a legitimate business reason which their own compulsory retirement age is designed to achieve; whether they have identified the right retirement age to achieve it; whether there is, in fact, evidence to support it; whether there are less discriminatory ways of achieving the objective which they should adopt instead; and whether they have excluded all stereotyping judgments from their assessment.

In the Seldon case, Mr Seldon had argued that a compulsory retirement age of 65 in the CWJ partnership agreement amounted to unlawful age discrimination against partners. The Employment Tribunal, at first instance, decided that that compulsory retirement age was a proportionate means of achieving the firm’s legitimate aims of:

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