Article published in The Lawyer on 5 March 2018

Despite the abolition of a mandatory retirement age, many UK firms’ partnership agreements include a clause suggesting the age at which the majority of their senior lawyers should pull up stumps and move on (in contrast, lawyers at US firms are well known for working into their 70s and beyond).

“This is enormously significant, and one of the reasons why US firms have been so successful in London,” argues employment law specialist Ronnie Fox of Fox & Partners, who says he has observed the boom in UK to US lateral moves since the introduction of age discrimination laws a decade ago.

“They understand much better the role older partners can play,” he adds.

Many UK firms’ partnership agreements include a clause suggesting the age at which the majority of their senior lawyers should pull up stumps and move on

These days an age-related retirement policy would be challenged on the basis of age discrimination legislation but, as Fox points out, what firms might do is start to discuss “future plans” with partners when they “get to a certain age”.

“In practice, there are very few partners over the age of 60 in the magic circle,” says Fox.

Indeed, he highlights one instance where a partner in his 50s at a top firm was threatened with immediate expulsion from the firm at the next partners meeting, “unless he agreed ‘within the next seven days’ to retire at a date that suited the firm”.

“Magic circle firms we all once thought were impregnable are now losing partners to US firms and as a result, I believe are now much more aware of the need to plan better,” adds Fox.

“Now, firms are more sensitive. I’m also seeing more use of things like anti-team move clauses, whereby if one partner gives notice then no other partner can give notice for a set period of time. That prevents an outflow. I first saw one about a dozen years ago but they’re now being more widely used.”

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