Biglaw, Labor / Employment, Old People, Partner Issues

Kelley Drye Case Makes It Even Harder to Tell Old People to Go Away

It's a terrible thing when you have to wait too long for your chance to rule.

The entitlement reign of the really old will not end soon. With advances in modern medicine, advances that the Supreme Court will tell us how we’re allowed to pay for, today’s old people will live and work longer than any previous generation on Earth.

Or at least take up space.

While a family might be able to shove Grandpa into a nursing home, modern businesses are having a really tough time getting septuagenarian or even octogenarian partners to go away, and leave their clients behind. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that Kelley Drye owes one of its partners over half a million dollars for trying to push him into retirement, and it opens a wide door for old people to hang onto to their offices and their clients well after they can no longer chew the leather.

Maybe it’s the right thing to do, but it’s got to be annoying for the Prince Charles-esque 60-year-old “up and comer”….

Kelley Drye’s settlement with the EEOC resulted in a $574,000 payment to labor partner Eugene D’Ablemont (mental note: when f**king with old people, make sure they’re not experts in labor and employment law). The firm was in trouble for its (now defunct) policy of making 70-year-old partners transition to “life partners,” and lose their equity stake.

Kelley Drye has since changed its policy.

The Am Law story about the settlement contains a rich discussion about whether partners are “employees” or “owners,” and what to do with them. But I’m more interested in a different part of the story:

“The law firm world should not look at this as a Kelley Drye case,” says Robert Hillman, a professor at University of California Davis School of Law who studies partnership law. “It’s a law firm case.”

Jeffrey Burstein, a senior trial lawyer with the EEOC’s New York office who handled the case, backed up that sentiment. “We certainly hope this sends a message that EEOC is looking at this issue and is concerned about mandatory retirement policies,” he says. Without divulging any details, Burstein said the agency would certainly consider bringing cases against other law firms, with or without a complaint from a partner being filed first.

Look, how do we legally force partners out? Because there are a lot of partners out there right now who refuse to leave gracefully. Instead of mentoring the next generation (and by “next generation,” we’re talking about 50-year-olds), and passing on the baton of client relationships, there are a bunch of partners who believe themselves to be “indispensable men.” They’ve made themselves so by jealously guarding their secrets, and refusing to bring others up to speed. Their loyalty is no longer to the firm, but to themselves as they fight off boredom and the miserable family lives that are the result of too many hours spent in the office.

Or, you know, they’re just old and useless, but don’t know it yet.

Either way, where earlier generations would retire or die, the current crop of aged Americans seems determined to hang on for as long as possible. That creates a bottle neck at the top, and it backs up the pipeline all the way down to the senior associate who can’t learn how to make rain when all of her “mentors” are hogging all the business.

Forced attrition is never pretty, but businesses figure out a way to do it when it comes to young people. Some law firms are doing it to partners who never materialized into rainmakers. Surely there’s a way to legally push out really old people whose time has passed.

Otherwise, we’re going to have way too many Bert Coopers — old people hanging around firms with no shoes on for no discernible reason other than that they’ve been there for a long time.

Kelley Drye Settlement with EEOC Provides A Cautionary Tale For Firms [Am Law Daily]

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