Old People

Ed. note: This is the first installment in a new series of posts on partner issues from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Today, Larry Latourette, Executive Director – Partner Practice, brings us his insights on what it’s like to practice law in the era of mandatory retirement, and how older partners can make a lateral transitions to new firms.

When I first met “Mark” for lunch this summer, he appeared to be in his mid-fifties, in excellent health, and talked about his competitive tennis game, needing to put his teenage kids through college, and his thriving legal practice that he couldn’t imagine giving up in the next ten years. In reality, Mark was 64, faced forced retirement from his firm in nine months, and wanted to know what his options were for moving laterally to another firm.

As a legal recruiter, I have met a growing number of lawyers like Mark who are bumping up against their firms’ mandatory retirement age. This trend will, in fact, accelerate over the next five years, for several reasons. Like other sectors of the economy, the Baby Boomers have had a dramatic effect on lawyer demographics. About 60 percent of law partners are now 55 or older, and by some estimates, a quarter of all practicing attorneys will be 65 or older by next year. At the same time the population is graying, however, it is also living longer. Especially with the increasing number of women in the legal profession, the life expectancy of lawyers who are 65 is now almost 20 years higher, with most of that time spent in good physical and mental health. Finally, the recent downturn in the economy has also caused some lawyers to postpone retirement as their nest eggs have dwindled.

Objectively, there is no question that most older lawyers are up to the challenge of practicing law….

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Lately, it seems that all of the regular legal media outlets have turned an eye toward women and their success in the profession. For example, earlier this week, we discussed whether women will ever be able to close the gender gap in Biglaw equity partnership ranks. Now, we’re faced with another “important” question: can older career women sport longer hairstyles?

According to some, such a look isn’t considered age-appropriate for the office. In fact, you could end up looking “rather sad and dated,” which may have an impact on your legal career. But then again, the National Law Journal’s survey on women who make partner didn’t include a question about the length of partnership candidates’ hair. Because at the end of the day, who cares? If a woman is great at her job, then the length of her hair shouldn’t matter.

Why can’t older women be successful and feminine at the same time?

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Whether you like it or not, people are going to go back and forth on grade inflation until the end of time. Some think it’s God’s gift to gunners, and some don’t. But if you’ve decided to embark upon your legal career later in life, it may seem like there’s no way to compete with millennials whose college report cards are so littered with inflated grades that they might as well be printed in glitter and accompanied by gold stars.

And that is exactly what one certified public accountant alleges in a lawsuit that he’s filed himself against Baylor Law School — the same school that accidentally released its incoming students’ GPAs and LSAT scores, as you may recall….

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Sexual healing, baby.

We mentioned this suit in passing back in November in Morning Docket. At first blush, this complaint looks like a slam dunk for the plaintiff. A 60-year-old continuing education student named Karen Royce sued her professor of “Human Sexuality” for giving her some intimate homework.

Professor Tom Kubistant allegedly told his students to masturbate “twice as often,” and required them to keep a sexual journal and discuss it with the class.

Usually, when your class starts sounding like the beginning of a Shannon Tweed movie, you can expect a successful lawsuit against you. But here’s the thing: Professor Kubistant required students to sign a waiver. And Royce signed it.

And all the other students arguably signed a waiver saying they’d listen to the sexual thoughts of a 60-year-old….

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Contrary to popular belief, many lawyers who toil in Biglaw actually enjoy what they do. This is especially true of partners (as opposed to associates who just pass through on their way to in-house or government opportunities). Some partners enjoy their work so much that they’d do it for free — or at least for much less than the millions they typically receive.

Of course, even if you find fulfillment in the work you do as a law firm partner, you can’t deny that the other benefits are nice. Being a Biglaw partner certainly allows you to provide an upscale lifestyle for your family. And it might permit you to enjoy an early retirement for yourself.

When you earn millions of dollars a year in partner profits, with lucrative retirement benefits on top of that (assuming your firm doesn’t do a Dewey), you don’t need to work until you’re 65 or 70. Instead, you can get an early start on your golden years, pursuing all of the hobbies and interests that you never had the chance to explore while billing 2000-plus hours a year.

That’s exactly what a retired Skadden corporate partner, James Freund, has been doing. Freund, who is now 77, retired from SASMF back in 1996, around the age of 61 (a little early, but not hugely so).

A few years ago, Freund scaled back his lifestyle. He traded in his $5 million townhouse for an apartment — one that cost a mere $3 million. Being a retired Skadden M&A partner is a tough life, but somebody’s got to live it….

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Alameda County Judge Paul Seeman

Usually when we talk about judges in the United States, we give them a pass on the old saying, “judge not, lest you be judged,” seeing as judging is kind of their job and whatnot.

Not so much for one local judge in Alameda County, California. This jurist has been arrested for allegedly financially abusing an elderly woman who was his neighbor.

As of last night, our Judge of the Day was languishing in a cell in the district he used to preside over. Where did the veteran jurist, who had long worked in juvenile justice, go wrong?

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We have previously discussed the subject of pensions at the deeply troubled law firm of Dewey & LeBoeuf. Right now it’s looking quite likely that the firm will wind up in dissolution or bankruptcy. If the firm does go down that path, what will happen to the retirement benefits of current and former employees?

Today we have some news on that front — plus UPDATES on other Dewey stories, of course….

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Consider this definition (which I’m borrowing from my own work):

Business development: Playing golf with old college buddies. As in: ‘Of course I charged the firm for my business development trip to Scotland.’”

If you’re in high school, you did not think that was funny.

If you’re in law school, you have a bemused look on your face.

If you’re 50 years old and work at either a large law firm or a large corporation, you may well have just laughed out loud.

Why is that? I submit that there’s a generational divide in legal humor.

When my daughter was in first grade, and her classmates were all losing their baby teeth, I picked up Jessica’s arm one day and felt around in her armpit. “Hey, Jessica,” I asked, “are any of your classmates losing their baby arms yet?”

Jessica didn’t laugh. Instead, she gave me a look that said, “I’m pretty sure that he’s kidding — but if he’s not, this really sucks.”

I got that same look recently from a bunch of students at the University of Chicago Law School . . . .

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Thing that can kill you.

Dear Lord, Florida seems like a dangerous place. The only people who are unarmed there are the criminals. Certainly, the lawyers in Florida have guns, and they apparently know how to use them.

A lot of people will see this as a cool story: cat burglars broke into a law office, and an old lawyer who was asleep at his desk defended himself. We like cool stories about lawyers defending themselves, and this one certainly fits the bill.

But what I see is a person who almost died because of Florida’s ridiculous gun laws. I see a person who was not threatened with deadly force use deadly force anyway. And I see no reason to keep praising this vigilante justice where people can take the law into their own hands, even if they are lawyers….

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* Since you’re so funny, crack some jokes about this one, Obama. Senate Republicans will be filing an amicus brief in support of a challenge to the constitutionality of the President’s recess appointments. [New York Times]

* Thanks to this Third Circuit ruling, you can rest easy knowing that you can rely on the First Amendment to protect your homemade sex tapes from all of those strict porn record-keeping and labeling requirements… for now. [Reuters]

* Due to Kelley Drye’s EEOC settlement, the New York State Bar Association is asking firms to end mandatory retirement policies. Because old folks need to make bank till they croak. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

* The ABA’s Commission on Ethics 20/20 has decided to ditch its proposal to allow limited nonlawyer ownership of law firms. Cue tears and temper tantrums from the likes of Jacoby & Meyers. [Am Law Daily]

* “If I believe that Chris Armstrong is a radical homosexual activist, I have a constitutional right to express that opinion.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. Tell that to the judge who dismissed your suit, Shirvell. [Detroit Free Press]

* Presenting “her royal hotness”: apparently Pippa Middleton has been seen cavorting around France with gun-toting lawyer Romain Rabillard, of Shearman & Sterling. [Daily Mail]

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