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Solo & Small Law Firms

The More Things Change….

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A half decade ago, I posted about the then- historic lawsuit by the EEOC against biglaw firm Sidley Austin for engaging in age discrimination by demoting or forcing the retirement of 32 partners in their late fifties and early sixties because of their age.  Of course, because federal discrimination laws apply only to employees, not owners, the EEOC alleged that the demoted partners were actually employees.  As I wrote back then, I found the suit incredibly sad for a couple of reasons:

That skilled attorneys would have to degrade  themselves by portraying themselves as less than what they are to bring a lawsuit (even if the principles behind the suits are correct) just seems so sad.   But perhaps even more sad is to spend one’s life believing that you’re an owner of an organization only to have it throw you out when you’re too old or undesireable.  That something like that can happen to people as hardworking and able as large firm partners just goes to show that large firm partners really aren’t owners – they really are nothing more than humble employees at the mercy of others like everyone else.

Fast forward five years, and it’s deja vu all over again, with the EEOC suing Kelley, Drye (NYLJ), alleging that it violated discrimination law by de-equitizing Eugene D’Ablemont, a 79 year old partner and cutting his bonus from $75,000 to $25,000.  According to an EEOC press release cited in he article, D’Ablemont was bringing in $1 million per year to the firm, though apparently he only billed between 195 and 324 hours, which either means that his profits were highly leveraged or his billing rate was stratospheric.

Though solo and small firm lawyers reaching retirement age have their own challenges, let’s be glad that claiming reduced status (as an employee) to gain better status financially isn’t one of them.  [note post has changed since last night]

  • Are we talking about the partners at a Big Law firm, or are we talking about the Politburo? There are enough unpleasant surprises waiting for solo practitioners, but Sidley Austin’s behavior isn’t one of them.

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