Proposed changes to the mandatory retirement age would pose management challenges for law firms and throw succession plans into ‘disarray’, employment lawyers have warned. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has published a series of proposals this week to allow people, including solicitors, the right to stay in employment beyond 65. The proposals include the abolition of the default retirement age and the extension of the right to request flexible working to help balance caring and health needs with the demands of a career. The EHRC said the changes reflected the ‘demographics’ of today’s ageing population and, by retaining valuable skills, would inject billions of pounds into the British economy. Audrey Williams, a partner and head of discrimination law at City firm Eversheds, said it was ‘just a matter of time’ before the EHRC’s proposals became fact, whether it was through the Equality Bill or the government’s promised consultation and review. ‘The challenge for management will be to align the new retirement rules with the development needs of the firm,’ she said. The right balance of skills was needed so that associates can step up when the time is right, she added. ‘But how can you ask someone to tell you when they are planning to retire without risking an age discrimination claim? Your succession plans will be in utter disarray.’ Ronnie Fox, name partner at City employment firm Fox Lawyers, said the proposed changes were part of a general trend against ageism. The default retirement age did not apply to partnerships, he said, because partners were effectively self-employed, but the profession took its ‘cue’ from the business community at large and management faced challenging times ahead. Law firms, he said, must be more careful than ever to ensure age-related clauses in contracts met the criteria of being ‘a proportionate means to achieve a legitimate aim’. Baroness Margaret Prosser, deputy chairwoman of the EHRC, said Britain has suffered a ‘skills exodus’ during the recession and the problem has been ‘exacerbated’ by forcing people to retire at 65. The proposed changes will allow ‘greater flexibility’ to recruit and retain talent, she said.