Ethics

Aging attorneys are a lurking problem in the legal profession.

, The Legal Intelligencer

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Samuel Stretton
Samuel Stretton

Ideally, older lawyers would have firms or lawyers they work with that would help to support them. Often, the name of an older lawyer would bring in business and younger lawyers would handle the cases.

But many firms don't want that anymore. I am starting to see lawyers who formed firms and ran them for years and are now slowing down due to age and being slowly pushed out by the younger partners they mentored and trained. The younger ones are jealous or angry about having to pay the senior partner when he or she is not performing.

The old model of a law firm supporting an older lawyer into retirement doesn't exist anymore. The modern theory is eat only what you kill. That is the attitude of many firms and, as a result, when a senior lawyer is no longer performing at the level he or she once did, younger partners are not eager to support that lawyer and will often try to shove him or her out of the firm.

There really is no easy solution to this problem. Nor does one really want the disciplinary authorities to start petitioning for conservatorships or suspensions with the resulting embarrassment to men and women who were once pillars of the legal community.

But the public, at the same time, has to be protected, and if a lawyer is no longer capable of performing at the necessary level, that lawyer has to be told to stop practicing or associate with others who are willing to assist that lawyer so the client can be adequately protected and their legal goals met. The legal profession cannot just rely on the Office of Disciplinary Counsel to shoulder this burden, because it is grossly underfunded and would be unable to take on that sort of monumental task.

Clearly, the various state and county bar associations are going to have to focus over the next 10 to 20 years on the issues of senior attorneys. Perhaps the bar associations can develop a suborganization of senior or retired attorneys who can assist each other and, at the same time, provide candid advice to their colleagues about when it is time to stop practicing.

There is no need for any hard and fast rule. Certainly, there should be no mandatory retirement. But the next 10 to 20 years are going to see many more problems due to the age of attorneys who have nowhere else to go. Whether in the future there will be any need for periodic recertification or programs that pair a senior lawyer with a younger attorney so the senior lawyer can get advice and perhaps help remains to be seen.

This is a lurking problem and will have to be addressed at some point by the legal profession.

Lawyers should develop a plan to deal with files.

What do I do with legal files? What are my responsibilities to a client once the file is long closed?

Every older lawyer knows the aggravation of closed files. Many lawyers use storage facilities, but that ends up costing several hundred dollars a month. It is also very costly to have those files brought back and to have them ultimately shredded.

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