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Law And More: Power on an Aging Grid

“If Joe Biden runs for reelection in 2024 and wins, he would be 86 years old at the end of his second term. If Donald Trump runs and wins two years from now, he would be 82 years old on Jan. 20, 2029.” – The Hill, June 29, 2022 

It’s a subject that shouldn’t be brought up: age. After all there are more than 76 million of us boomers (and many of us refuse to leave the workforce) and among the 23 million members of the Silent Generation there are still those in positions of power. 

But age is being brought up so often that it has become a legitimate subject for the national conversation. Part of that shift is that the cliche “old white men” has been ditched (at least by those shunning cliches). Instead there are new phrases such as “gerontology set” and “the geriatrics.”

That conversation, like all talk in a digital age which reaches social networks, could topple the power of those who constitute an aging grid. Smart political consultants, for example, can put together presidential candidates for both major parties for 2024 who are under-50.

Even those of us who are boomers hunger, as we did with the election of John F. Kennedy, for the torch to be passed to a new generation. We are weary of the “gerontology set” in Congress (think Nancy Pelosi who is 82), in law firms (think Jones Day’s 70-year-old Stephen Brogan who might be retiring), and in media (think Rupert Murdoch who is 91 years old).

Some may balk at even the suggestion that there is a “too old.” For instance, they may point out that it was the not-so-old who brought the crypto revolution. As Bloomberg reports today, even NFTs have fallen off a cliff. It had been 91-year-old Warren Buffett who expressed extreme caution about crypto. 

On the other hand, there is even jaw-jawing about age limits on the US Supreme Court. Had there been age limits, the whole issue of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s giving up her seat during the Obama Administration might not have existed. She would simply have aged out. And maybe “Roe v Wade” might not have been gutted.

And what about those clogged pipelines in mobility to equity partner in elite law firms? The growing trend now is for those making partner to be salaried. Should the mandatory retirement age be lowered?

In 2019, recruiting firm Lateral Link documented in an article published on the Abovethelaw platform that half of the Am Law 200 have a mandatory retirement age. That usually falls between 63 and 68. After that, often partners can be become of counsel.

At Jones Day, former partner Paul Pohl, age 74, is now of counsel. At that same law firm Brogan had overstayed the retirement age for managing directors by five years.

At Paul Weiss the mandatory retirement age is 70. The current chairperson Brad Karp is 62. Although he seems to have other options for a career path, signs are that he is staying. His signature is establishing new initiatives. They range from concrete assistance for abortion availability to visionary projections for The Future of the Law Firm.

Meanwhile, the torch has been passed to a new generation at Brown Rudnick, the firm that successfully represented Johnny Depp. The new chief executive officer – Vincent Guglielmotti – is 41 years old. 

In some ways, I have passed the torch. I no longer compete for communications assignments which require gee-whiz digital technology. Sure, I can learn it. But I leave those opportunities to Gen Z.

I am financially set. They aren’t. That brings us to this issue: Should those of us who “don’t have to work” leave the work for those who have to earn a living? But if we do that we give up our power. Retire and power goes poof.

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