It doesn’t matter how old you are, it matters how competent you are to practice.
“A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.” A person, including those within the legal profession, of any age can maintain a sharp mind.
A lawyer’s ability to practice depends on their competence rather than their age. “In a profession where acuity is a key asset, the implication is that this quality begins to wane after middle age,” but this implication isn’t necessarily accurate.
Ageism in the Legal Community
Did you know that there’s a 91-year difference in the U.S.’ oldest attorney and the world’s youngest licensed attorney? James O. Bass Sr. was still practicing at his Nashville law firm at 107 years old; Gabrielle Turnquest was licensed in the U.K. at a mere 18-years old. Ironically, our own Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg just celebrated her 86 th birthday a few days ago. That being said, the focus should be more on whether a lawyer is able to carry out their responsibilities in an ethical manner. However, some firms are weary of their older personnel.
Not only are firms weary, governing bodies are weary too. “Law is often a profession with an expiration date, and in several states, including Connecticut and dozens of others, even judges, those who’ve reached the pinnacle of their careers, are forced to retire by 70.” As of late, the tides have been changing. Firms are starting to reconsider how they deal with lawyers as they grow older. “While some maintain a mandatory retirement age of 70 for partners, many firms are beginning to soften their policy to retain talented lawyers who continue to perform.”
How is an older lawyer’s performance evaluated? The ABA’s Rule 1.1 highlights competence by stating, “a lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.” Of course, competence isn’t the only consideration, but it definitely is a major factor.
For aging lawyers look to sharpen their mind, there are several ways to maintain competence. “To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject.”
For young or old attorneys, FirmVO offers thousands of CLE courses at your disposal. Remember, age is nothing but a number!