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He’s a senior partner at the firm—an accomplished, 50-year attorney and beloved mentor—who has begun to arrive late for court. He forgets key facts in cases. He dresses a little sloppily. He’s frequently impatient and quick to anger.

It’s a scenario that’s becoming more common as baby boomers enter retirement age. The normal reaction from his colleagues is to ignore the problem or make excuses for the behavior of their esteemed partner. But that reaction could wind up hurting the aging attorney, his clients and the law firm if the real reason behind the change is age-related cognitive impairment, most frequently caused by dementia.

“It is a competence issue,” said Patrick Krill, founder of Krill Strategies, which consults with law firms about lawyer mental health and substance abuse issues. “If a lawyer is in cognitive decline or otherwise impaired, the risk to the firm and to the client is very real, irrespective of what is potentially causing that decline or impairment.”

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