Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on lateral partner moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Today’s post is written by Michael Allen, the Managing Principal of Lateral Link, who focuses exclusively on partner placements with Am Law 200 clients.
“Do not go gentle into that good night, rage rage against the dying of the light.”
Dylan Thomas prophesied in his 1951 villanelle a prescient observation of aging leadership along with the corresponding succession planning hurdles a majority of laws firms face with their baby booming (or boomed) vintages.
Of the roughly 35,000 partners in Biglaw, roughly 4,700, (13%) of them are within a few years of or have surpassed (and then some) the mandatory retirement age. Lawyers 55 or older make up nearly 1/3 of practicing partners in the Am Law 200, a figure that will likely hold steady as the tail end of the baby boomer generation ages. Am Law 200 law firms have on average about 23.5 chairs, executive members, and senior partners whose 40-plus years of experience, client relationships, and leadership must be transferred to a new generation of rising stars. The process is hardly ever smooth and often involuntary.
Most partners in senior vintages begrudge the practice of mandatory retirement; some bemoan that it is an overcautious safeguard or the epitome of ageism. Some claim the practice is supported by scientific studies that link cognitive decline with advancing age — especially after 65, which is about the average for mandatory retirement. So how many law firms are prepared to deal with the void left by these partners?