Hey law firms! Have you given much thought to your partners approaching retirement, and calculated what their retirement may cost you?
At my law firm, we had great human resources management. It was so good that information was hard to come by. In fact, it was just about impossible to get any really good gossip out of management until it had made its way down to the partners, after which it became more readily available.
Since we had some really smart people at our firm (as well as a few who were not so smart), it should not be surprising that we had to compensate for the lack of information flow by learning to read between the lines.
Let’s say that Michael is a partner at his firm. He stays for many years and builds up a substantial client base.
And while we are making things up, let’s assume that Michael has been a team player and introduced his clients to his Partners and Associates, so as Mike comes close to retirement age, much of his work is being done by other Partners, Associates and Law Clerks.
There is a restaurant in Lakefield, Ontario called the Canoe & Paddle. On their regular menu is a panini called the “Ultimate Grilled Cheese” which comes with smoked bacon, cheddar, asiago, tomato, and garlic butter.
On their Kids & Seniors menu they offer a grilled cheese sandwich for which the ingredients are listed as “white loaf, cheddar.” They call this the “Grilled Cheese Please.”
Law firm partnerships like to project the image of a cohesive unit. One strategy that they employ is to insist that although Partners may disagree with each other in a Partners’ meeting, once they leave the room, they all must support the group’s decision.
Another is to require that Partners act as though they like each other, especially when they don’t.
One of the many nice things about being retired is that I feel free to write about topics that I would not have had the guts to speak up about back in the day. So, here we go again!
The year was 1995. It was one of my first forays into law firm management. I helped develop our firm’s first ‘maternity leave’ top-up policy and presented it at a partners meeting. We were getting a bit of buy-in, but that ground to a halt when one of our partners said, “let me get this straight. The people who come to work every day are not earning nearly enough (author’s note- we were never earning ‘nearly enough’) and you want us to earn even less so that we can subsidize people who are not coming to work at all? Seriously? You are all f**king crazy!”
If any among you have not yet happened upon the writings of H.L. Mencken, you should correct that. Among his many pithy quotes are the following gems:
- Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.
- Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.
- Conscience is the inner voice that warns us that someone might be looking.
One of H.L. Mencken’s quotes that seems particularly apt for law firm management is this one: “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”
I recently wrote an article titled, “You are Old. We are Greedy. Get the Hell Out!” In that article, I lamented the fact that law firms often nudge (or push, or shove) lawyers out of their firms when they hit their sixties. If you did not like that one, you probably will not like this one either, so just keep scrolling.
Since professional firms are usually partnerships, the well-compensated people at the top of the pyramid are partners, not employees. As a result, all of that stuff that protects employees from discrimination on the basis of age in the Human Rights Code does not apply to them, at least where I live in Ontario, Canada.
With that over-simplified but pithy summary of the law, I have explained how partners in accounting firms and law firms can be squeezed out in their early sixties.
Back in 1996 my sister became a doctor. No, not the type that the cabin crew calls for desperately at 35,000 feet when some overworked lawyer has a heart attack. One of the other kinds. In my sister’s case, she holds a Doctorate in Psychology, which is often quite useful given the level of crazy in my family.
For her doctoral thesis, my sister designed an experiment which examined, among other things, the effect of gender on the diagnostic process. She sent a questionnaire to medical doctors and psychologists describing the symptoms of a patient and asking them to suggest a diagnosis. The description of the symptoms received by each clinician was the same, except for one tiny discrepancy. In some cases the patient was described as a woman with certain symptoms typically associated with premenstrual syndrome and which she reported experiencing over several days before the commencement of menstruation. In the others, the patient was described as a man who experienced the same symptoms every four or five weeks.