Musical Chairs, Old People

Old People Will Not Go Quietly

I recently had a birthday. I’m 32-years-old, but my liver has to be at least 60. It’s pretty close to mandatory retirement age. But I’m just getting back from Vegas (full report on twitter) and I can tell you that my liver will not go quietly into the good night.

And so I have a little appreciation for the partners that recently departed Mendes & Mount. A couple of partners there bumped up against the firm’s mandatory retirement age. After a failed negotiation with firm management, the older partners decided to take most of the damn practice group with them and start a new firm. The New York Law Journal reports:

Seven partners at Mendes & Mount have departed to launch a boutique after at least one of the partners failed to persuade the firm to amend its mandatory retirement policy.

The new firm, Fitzpatrick & Hunt, Tucker, Collier, Pagano, Aubert, consists of the bulk of Mendes & Mounts’ aviation practice and will have offices in New York and Los Angeles, said partner Ralph V. Pagano. The firm will be made up of 24 lawyers from Mendes & Mount, including the partners, one of whom joins as special counsel. Mendes & Mount will be left with about 109 lawyers.

“It’s a pretty big break-off,” Pagano said.

How’s that for flexing some muscle? Push me out — I’ll take 24 lawyers and your aviation practice group with me! Screw you guys, I’m going home.

Hey, the older partners gave Mendes an opportunity to reconsider…

Previously, I’ve made the argument that older people should get out of the way to make room for fresh blood. But that argument is based on the thought that there are younger people around that are ready to step up. Here, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead, Kash (channeling her Peter Petrelli, hospice-like empathy) has the winning point:

With age comes legal acumen, but perhaps more importantly in Biglaw, connections. Eagerness and youth do not translate into clients. While adding chapters to their big book of life, these Mega Boomers have added many pages to their books of business. The law firms sending their 70+ partners packing don’t just lose experience, they may be sending billable matters to a competitor without an age discrimination policy.

It’s not just that Mendes lost the experience and business of the older partners — they lost most of the practice group:

James Cotterman, a consultant at Altman Weil, said what happened at Mendes & Mount was “certainly consistent with the risks firms face if they don’t address mandatory retirement,” that partners who still had the interest and ability to keep working would seek out opportunities to continue to do so, possibly taking business with them.

“I would have probably expected them to take [their practice] to another firm,” he said. “But certainly if the practice is sufficient enough and they have a team of people who support that practice,” Cotterman said, departing attorneys could start their own firms.

According to the New York Law Journal, Mendes’ retirement policy is there to prevent a “logjam” at the top. That’s all well and good. But you also have to groom future partners. With 24 lawyers leaving, it seems that a lot of the younger members of the practice group preferred working with their older mentors.I guess there’s no more logjam for aviation practice partners.

It’s difficult situation on both sides. The difference between “old” and “experienced” is razor thin.

Mandatory Retirement Policy a Factor in 7 Partners Leaving Firm [New York Law Journal]

Earlier: Mandatory Retirement Age for Partners: An ATL Debate

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