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Opinion: Peter Boyd

14 November 16

An industry trend is seeing the biggest legal firms forcing older lawyers out of the door. Smart, smaller firms should be snapping up those looking to work into their retirement

by Peter Boyd

Increasingly, it seems that the legal profession is turning away from the adage that “experience is the mother of wisdom”.

Instead, many are looking more and more towards younger professionals to bolster teams, sometimes proactively moving aside older lawyers.

In fact, recent research backs up the anecdotal evidence within the industry. Lawyers who are getting closer to retirement age are increasingly feeling undervalued and, in some cases, effectively being forced out of the door.

Law firms are opting to go with new recruits rather than experienced professionals, the same professionals who in many cases have played no small part in building the success and reputation of that business.

This phenomenon has been fuelled by a number of factors, the most evident being the drive for profit as firms merge and economies of scale see senior staff being let go.

In commercial terms, this represents a real opportunity for firms such as ourselves who don’t shy away from taking on those at the more experienced end of the spectrum.

There are worries from some quarters that retaining too many experienced professionals will, one way or another, block the career path of those taking their first steps onto the legal ladder or those with ambitions of moving onwards and upwards.

Of course, it would be foolish to ignore this issue but, as with so many things, it is about striking a balance.

It is claimed by some that this “moving aside” comes as a result of an increasing number of experienced lawyers in the upper echelons preventing fresh faces breaking through and, as such, it is inevitable that something must give.

However, we urge and practise caution when it comes to creating space for professionals. Law is a huge industry and there is room for everyone in our fast-paced and ever-changing environment.

Experienced operators can often bring in major business and the depth of knowledge to tackle all manner of appointments. Too little importance is placed on their positive impact throughout the practice.

As such, far from closing doors on the next generation of legal professionals, retaining and even hiring older lawyers can create opportunities and offer a greater breadth of experiences that are simply not available in firms where experienced heads roll in favour of recruiting young blood.

I’m passionate about developing the next generation of lawyers; indeed we have a number of staff who started with us as trainees, and mentoring and developing careers is an important part of our practice. However, that is not to the detriment of older professionals – legal firms provide services to a wide variety of clients tackling diverse issues, and it only makes sense to have a mix of professionals in the building.

Further to this, when veteran lawyers do take retirement, their clients do not evaporate. Changing firm is not something many people do lightly, which we must be thankful for, and this will inevitably lead to a greater role for those younger team members with those clients who have come to know and trust them.

Experienced, skilled professionals should be able to feel that their remaining years in the industry are their most enjoyable. Their width and breadth of legal and local knowledge should not only be realised but celebrated.

Who better for the up-comers to learn these valuable skills from than those who have done it best and longest?

I know that experience isn’t everything, but I believe it is worth a lot. A balance must be struck, and one that appreciates the contribution that both the old and the new have to offer.

Peter Boyd is managing partner of Edinburgh-headquartered Boyd Legal 

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