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Nov 12, 2013

Law Firm Succession – Motivating Senior Partners to Embrace Retirement


i am the managing partner of a 12 lawyer firm in Rochester, Minnesota. I am in my early 50s. Two of my partners are in their 60s and two are in their 70s. None of them want to discuss retirement – in fact they jokingly state that they would like to work forever. Do you have any thoughts regarding encouraging/motivating senior partners to embrace retirement?


I am working with more partners and firm owners in their 50s that have clearer ideas about their retirement timeline (often at age 65) than partners in their 60s and 70s. These partners are often the firm founders that built their firms and have a different attitude toward work and life than their partners that are in their 40s and 50s. Work/life balance is often a foreign concept to this older generation of lawyers.

Often "the firm" has been the primary – or only interest – for some of these partners at the exclusion of family and other outside interests. In other cases, the partner's spouse may have passed away and the firm is the partner's LIFE. In such situations bringing up the subject is often difficult.

While this is a difficult subject – not discussing the non-discussible because the topic is uncomfortable – is not the answer. Here are a few ideas:

  1. If the firm does not have a partnership or operating agreement or has one that does not adequately address retirement of the partners – use this to approach the subject of retirement. Approach the topic from the vantage point of "all partners" and not to single out solely the older partners.
  2. Consider a mandatory retirement at say age 70 provision but also incorporate an "Of Counsel" option that allows senior partners to continue to contribute to the firm in possibly a different role after retirement.
  3. For those partners that want and need to be able to continue to come to the office and contribute to the firm – make it clear, that if approved by the partnership, retirement does not mean that they have to leave. They can still have a place within the firm.
  4. Rome was not built in a day – take baby steps by having periodic partner open and frank discussions about retirements and succession.
  5. Provide retirement planning assistance to those senior partners that desire it. Such assistance might also include helping partners develop other outside interests and hobbies.
  6. Provide incentives in the retirement-buy-out plan to encourage earlier retirement and management and client transition.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC



Posted at 08:31 PM in Succession/Exit Strategies
Tags: Law firm succession, senior partner retirement

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