Is Aging Law Firm Leadership a Roadblock for Equity Partnership for Generation X Lawyers?

Generation X lawyers (both 1965 to 1982) are managing partners in only 3% of Am Law 100 law firms. This is likely no great surprise to Generation X lawyers (my generation), who have seen delayed retirement among older attorneys due to combination of:

  • Longer, healthier, and more active living

  • Recession forcing some lawyers to re-build or increase their retirement savings

New York Times reporter Elizabeth Olson's "Graying Firms Wrestle With Making Room for Younger Lawyers" examines the effects of this phenomenon and what law firms are doing about it beyond creation of two-tiered partnership structures to try appease rising lawyers while protecting more senior partners' investments. But in reality that protection of senior partners comes at the expense of others -- partner lay-offs, senior associate lay-offs, staff lay-offs, etc. Shoring up profits through massive layoffs is a limited strategy.

Law firms are plagues by reactive, slow-moving thinking, experts argue. For lawyers under 50, the investment in time and effort necessary to obtain equity partnership is huge, and getting larger every year. Yet the actual change of obtaining equity partnership is more remote than ever. And equity partnership itself no longer means career security. 

Change is inevitable, experts say. The question will be whether law firms are prepared for it.