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Voice of Experience

Voice of Experience: June 2024

Deciding Whether to End Mandatory Retirement

Michael L Goldblatt


  • It's time to re-evaluate mandatory retirement now that individuals can remain productive into their 70’s and beyond.
  • Modernizing retirement practices can benefit the public and the profession. 
Deciding Whether to End Mandatory Retirement

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About 45 years ago, Congress outlawed mandatory retirement before the age of 70. Several years later, Congress completely abolished mandatory retirement, except for positions held by partners, pilots, police, state court judges, etc. The laws changed a 100-year-old tradition of using private pensions and forced retirement to remove older, less productive employees.

Medical advances and healthy lifestyles make it possible for individuals to remain productive into their 70’s and beyond. However, many large law firms and state courts continue mandatory retirement policies to provide upward mobility, prevent stagnation, and avoid unpleasantness when underperformers are unwilling to leave. Following is a checklist of pros, cons, and strategies to consider when deciding whether to eliminate mandatory retirement. See the resources listed below the checklist to implement the strategies.

Against Mandatory Retirement

  • Clients - clients may exit with retiring lawyers who join new firms.
  • Experience - older judges and lawyers have deep skills and judgment.
  • Self-Determination - enables senior judges and lawyers to choose when to retire.

For Mandatory Retirement

  • Cost - reduces compensation expense associated with senior positions.
  • Competence - avoids the need to monitor competence and prevents professional stagnation.
  • Dignity - allows lawyers and jurists to retire with dignity.
  • Mobility - upward mobility created by making positions available for younger lawyers.


  • Age – consider increasing the mandatory age to 75 or 80.
  • Alternatives - instead of mandatory retirement, use part-time, of counsel, or senior status.
  • Assessments - conduct annual assessments of performance and fitness to practice.
  • Clients – plan for handing over responsibility for long-term clients and preserving their goodwill.
  • Counseling - provide counseling for retirement readiness (e.g., financial, health, lifestyle, etc.).
  • Deferral - allow senior professionals to delay retirement subject to the approval of management.
  • Legality – avoid legal challenges that question the continued viability of mandatory retirement.
  • Networking – organize an alumni group for retired colleagues; host meetings and send newsletters.
  • Phases - create a system for senior lawyers to decrease compensation and workload in advance of retirement.
  • Opportunities - provide post-retirement career paths like managing, mentoring, training, etc.
  • Rewards – provide remuneration for part-time work; create financial incentives for retirement.
  • Wellness – promote longevity with annual health screenings, fitness incentives, and work/life balance.


Mandatory retirement of lawyers and state judges is under debate in law firms and state legislatures. Increasing longevity enables experienced judges and lawyers to work long past the traditional retirement age of 65. Forcing them to retire creates an experience drain and adversely impacts the public. Now is the time to rethink mandatory retirement policies and replace them with better alternatives. Finish the work Congress started years ago by giving lawyers and state judges the right to select their retirement date.