The purported fact of an economic recovery depends on your perception. But pundits, being pundits, must have something to argue about, and one of the current flash points is whether a recovery of the legal economy is underway … or whether we’re in for more of the same.
If the optimists are correct, it will soon become easier for lawyers to get and keep jobs. In my small corner of the world, though, this does not yet appear to be the case. And, while I see a significant number of new lawyers who can’t seem to get anything in the legal field, the problems of unemployment and underemployment seem to be most devastating for older lawyers.
There is a large (and increasing) percentage of attorneys passing through my office doors who have been let go, or whose practices have dried up, just when they thought they would have been doing some catch-up withholding along the slippery slope to retirement. Now these lawyers are spending down what was to be their retirement income far sooner than expected — and with penalties, in a lot of cases — while they look for jobs that will never materialize, or as they attempt to reconfigure a small practice that will never get started again.
I understand this is an issue of the general economy, and that late-career professionals are dropping out of the job search every day to begin subfunded, unanticipated early retirements. I also understand we live in a youth culture — and have for some time (which is probably the only way to adequately explain the fascination with the Kardashian family). But this website addresses issues of interest to attorneys, so I can’t think of a more appropriate place to discuss these matters as they affect the mid-50’s-and-up legal professional looking for work.
There are two things I’d like to say about this:
1. Organizations Need to Step Up Their Support of Older Job-Seekers
I think it would be good for bar associations and other attorney-support and attorney-supported organizations to provide more, and more substantial, resources for older lawyers seeking employment.
Organizations, agencies, law schools and associations often focus their energies on new attorneys who are looking for their first jobs. And, certainly, there are good reasons for doing so — particularly for law schools looking to frame the immediate job market for their graduates as positively as possible.
Still, late-career professionals are as much in need of job-finding support as younger ones. I know that when my organization runs programming for job seekers, the older attorneys outnumber the younger ones by quite a bit. Unfortunately, not a lot of resources are being focused on older job-seekers.
2. Legal Employers Should Question Their Assumptions
Now, let’s address legal employers who, as a rule, are far less likely to hire a late-career professional than an early career one. It often seems there is no greater sin in attempting to acquire an interview for any kind of job than having amassed gray hair. In fact, as I’ve talked with several older attorneys who are looking for work, one of the most common questions relates to whether these folks should post pictures to their social media accounts — at least, current pictures. It’s something of a sad commentary on our society when job seekers are fearful of being themselves, and appearing as they are.
I know this is not exclusive to the legal profession. Even so, hiring managers, partners and solo attorneys who are looking to add staff should consider dropping certain assumptions about hiring late career professionals, and offer these folks a fairer shake than they’ve so far gotten.
I do not mean to paint legal employers as the bad guys or gals. I understand how difficult it is to run a business in the modern regulatory climate. I know it would be insane to hire someone who is not the best fit. I understand that part of the prerogative of being a business owner is that you get to hire who you want, and that there are certain advantages to hiring younger people — lower salary, a lack of adherence to settled business processes and a longer working life, among other things. And this column is not meant to advocate for hiring older applicants as a matter of course; it’s merely an inducement to reconsider some preconceived notions about older employees.
Jared Correia is Senior Law Practice Advisor at the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program. Prior to joining LOMAP, he was the Publications Attorney for the Massachusetts Bar Association. Before that, he worked as a private practice lawyer. Jared is the author of Twitter in One Hour for Lawyers. He writes on practice management topics for Attorney at Work here, and for the LOMAP blog here. Follow @jaredcorreia.
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