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Generation Hexed: Older Lawyers Are Finding It Harder to Stay Employed

By | Jul.01.13 | Daily Dispatch, Law Practice, Law Practice Management, Legal Careers

Managing

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.

As something of a more modest proposal, next time, in part two of this post, I will relay some assumptions law firm employers make about older job seekers — and then will attempt to debunk them.

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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4 Responses to “Generation Hexed: Older Lawyers Are Finding It Harder to Stay Employed”

  1. MJ
    5 July 2013 at 7:44 am #

    Aren’t the issues of under/unemployment and practices drying up totally different? If a solo’s practice dried up, that’s one issue. If a big firm has just realized that its overhead is too high and starts laying people off, that is another. As attorneys we have some control, and responsibility, over the state of our own practices but no control over what large firms do.

    Also, isn’t in insane for any older lawyer to “look for a job?” Keep overhead low and look for a few client projects and build your own practice – legal employers are irrational and cheap, do not rely on them!

  2. Jared Correia
    8 July 2013 at 12:30 pm #

    MJ,

    I don’t think the issues are mutually exclusive. In fact, most of the attorneys I speak with whose practices have dried up, look first at trying to find a job with another firm, rather than revising their old firm/creating a new firm. Perhaps they view that latter option as counterintuitive: this didn’t work before, why would I do it again. So, whether it’s irrational or not, that is the route that many lawyers in this position are taking. Of course, it’s not true that it’s impossible for older attorneys to find employment; some do, even if many do not.

    While associate attorneys do not have control over what their large firms do, they can do what many employees of big corporations do: make themselves as indispensable to their employers as possible, to avoid non-structural layoffs.

    I do think many would agree with you in calling legal employers ‘irrational and cheap’, haha. And, I will address some of the problems with legal employers’ perspectives in part 2 of this article.


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