With the ever changing educational and employment landscape across this country over the past few years, the number of “young lawyers” over the age of 35 is growing and employers are quickly learning the advantages of engaging this untapped market. Lawyers over 35 know that the benefits they have to offer an employer are simply not taught in law school.
At age 42, with a real estate investment background, I entered law school with the idea to expand my experience and potential in contract and real estate law. But life experience teaches us that ideas and goals are malleable, and, after completing a judicial and prosecutorial internship in law school, I found a passion for the daily legal discourse and training that is the criminal justice system. I was hooked.
Hired straight out of law school by the state attorney’s office, I looked around to see many of my classmates still struggling to find their way in the legal job market. It has been five years since passing the bar exam, which makes me a “young lawyer” by ABA standards. But now, as I look back as a young lawyer over 35, what stood out or what did I do differently than the rest that allowed for a smooth transition to employment?
From my past employment as an assistant state attorney to my current employer, my performance assessments have been similar. Employers, clients, judges, officers, witnesses, and even opposing counsel appreciate and are grateful for the life experience and mature approach brought to the work—something that they often do not find in younger applicants and lawyers. I was fortunate enough to have employers who sought these qualities out.
Life experience brings with it a maturity not readily found in some of the younger graduates. That should be expected, as younger graduates are often on the cusp of looking for their direction and footing in the world of professional employment.
But I have found deeper advantages for an employer in hiring the older young lawyer.
Most of the older young lawyers have an established record of incorporating into their daily lives the financial responsibilities of bills, home ownership/rentals, etc. This means, before law school, as part of their preparation they either set aside money to attend law school or extensively researched the financial impact of any law school loans on those responsibilities and made allowances for the impact.
This financial experience and acumen brings a twofold benefit to employers: first, it reduces the likelihood of turnover. Many firms see younger new hires leave because they are in search of a higher salary to cover their student debt, which often is over $100,000. Older young lawyers usually do not place themselves in a position where they are seeking a salary that compensates for their law school debt. When they accept a position with a firm or employer, it is because it is where then “want” to be, not where they “have” to be.
Secondly, older young lawyers are ahead of the curve in understanding and implementing the financial requirements of client billing and the fiduciary maintenance of client accounts, a skill that often takes new attorneys several years to learn.
Flexibility and Trainability
Contrary to the popular notion that older young lawyers may be fixed in their ways and less trainable, this is simply not the case. Age does not bring inflexibility as much as it brings knowledge of what does and doesn’t work in the professional world. The advantage this brings to the older young lawyer is quicker analysis and increased accuracy in choosing the correct approach to resolving an issue or problem, avoiding wasted company time on trial and error.
Plus, as a firm or potential employer, you have to ask yourself, “Wouldn’t someone who did not follow the predictable and linear path toward becoming a lawyer have already demonstrated that they were open to new challenges? Able to think outside of the box?”
Age is not the defining factor to inflexibility. People are inflexible when it is in their nature and part of their personality, and we all have to admit that we have seen our share of inflexible lawyers at every age.
The evidence that someone at an older age chose to take the LSATs, enroll in law school, take a bar exam and practice law is evidence enough that person is more than willing to take direction from those younger than they are, and willing to put in the effort to change their life course.
These older applicants define what it is to be trainable and flexible.
Work Experience and Stability
Years of complementary and transferable skills from previous employment are what an older young lawyer brings to the table for any firm. These skills are often what led them to law school in the first place. Research, negotiations, persuasive speaking engagements, analytical problem solving—these are all skills needed to become a successful lawyer, and are skills already in place and strengthened by years of experience before law school.
For those firms asking “What stability could an older ‘young’ lawyer possibly add to our organization?” I would say this discussion would run tangentially with the financial aspects. When someone from this group of lawyers accepts a position with a firm or employer, it is because this is where they “want” to be, not where they “have” to be for financial reasons. If they are applying to your firm or your organization, they are interested in or have a passion for the work being done there. In all likelihood, these older applicants are going to not only put in the long hours you are seeking but also be the employees that can be counted on for remaining loyal to the organization or firm.
“But do the older young lawyers have the ability to commit the time we need?”
The answer to this is a resounding yes. Each older young lawyer will be different in their approach (as all individuals are) but they know the following:
- When they apply to law school, they know and recognize the existing age bias in employment. The legal field is not unique in that aspect. The older “young” lawyer will work harder and longer hours at every turn, simply to be viewed by many as on the same level as their younger counterparts.
- Those with a family have planned for the time commitment necessary to give to a new employer and the position in the same way they planned for the financial impacts of any law school debt to their financial responsibilities.
Yes, there are definite advantages in hiring the young lawyer over the age of 35.
In addition to the legal knowledge brought to the table as a newly admitted lawyer, they have the maturity, knowledge, and experience their younger counterparts do not, and they know better than most the hours and effort it will take to achieve the organization or firm’s objectives… a benefit any firm should not hesitate to add to their bottom line.
About the Author
Yvonne Pinto is a real estate attorney in the San Francisco area and a former assistant state attorney in Florida.