In part one of this post on “Generation Hexed,” Jared Correia discussed why older lawyers are finding it harder to stay employed, and proposed specific actions the organized bar and legal employers should consider. In part two, he sets out to challenge some employer assumptions about older professionals seeking employment.
For senior legal professionals searching for new jobs, the climb is hard enough. While they must be prepared to overcome objections, their barrier to entry should not be impossibly high. So, let’s take a look at some of the assumptions legal employers make about older job seekers, and attempt to debunk them.
Assumption 1: Older Attorneys Are Burnt-out
Well, not necessarily. Of all the professions, those who really love to practice law seem to love it the most, at times in an unhealthy way. How many stories are there of lawyers dying at their desks? (That’s not a lawyer joke. There are a lot.) To dedicate oneself to a career with that magnitude of gravitas is impressive, if a little deranged. Some attorneys, then, can practice law for a long, long time and never get burned out. In those cases where this may not be true, perhaps a new opportunity is just what the doctor ordered. Working within a new construct may be what the burnt-out attorney needs to discover an old zeal. In the world of sports, this is the ol’ change of scenery trade.
Assumption 2: They Are Uncoachable
Many older attorneys are very willing to accept new methods and are very curious about learning new things, especially respecting technology — they’re just looking for a little guidance. And, while many attorneys with years of experience who are in receipt of regular paychecks may seem intractable, the fact is that those looking for that next regular paycheck must be far more flexible than they might otherwise be.
Sure, there will always be some level of resistance to the notion of taking orders from a younger colleague. But in the modern workspace, there is more of an esprit de corps that reduces the sort of age-based commandeering that traditionally took hold of offices. Of course, this transition is made more easily when an older lawyer is hired in a new practice area, since a mentorship period, and discussions of substantive matters, would set the tone for the employer-employee relationship.
Assumption 3: They’re Overbearing Know-It-Alls
Although length of experience is one of the primary forces in play when an older professional is hired, it is not always the case that older lawyers will have deep experience in the practice areas for which you’re hiring. But to refresh their careers, some are quite interested in learning new practice areas. Even if the attorney has practiced in a specific area for quite some time, though, his or her current knowledge may not be what it should be. For example, in a state like Massachusetts, where there is no continuing legal education requirement, it is very easy for attorneys to let their professional development stagnate. Therefore, it may be that you’ll need to mentor an older professional, as alluded to above, and that is one roundabout way of teaching your office methods to a more receptive new hire.
Assumption 4: They Don’t Know the First Thing About Technology
While they may not use technology as regularly as the younger set, most older attorneys I talk to who are looking for jobs (1) know something about the available tools from talking with younger relatives and colleagues; (2) have an abiding interest in technology themselves (even if only so they can see pictures of their grandchildren on Facebook); and (3) realize that they must pick up familiarity with new technology to work in a modern law office. And, since they often have a sense of the importance of technology to efficient processes, there is a willingness to learn about options that will improve their productivity.
Younger attorneys may have a greater feel for technology tools, but it is more often true that older attorneys understand how to use technology in a professional context, especially when it comes to leveraging the new media for marketing.
Assumption 5. Their Referral Pipelines Have Dried Up
Not necessarily. Some have a significant collection of referral sources and leads — they just don’t want to practice on their own, where they’d have to take advantage of those potential business sources outside of a more traditional firm environment. Some folks just don’t want to be entrepreneurs — especially in the late stages of their careers.
While most older job seekers have at least developed a network of more amorphous connections (as opposed to qualified leads and referral sources), leveraging those connections is another matter. It’s easier being everyone’s friend when you’re not asking for things — like a new job, or a new case. It is an art to turn over business from contacts. Consider that your potential hire has the pieces, perhaps, but can’t complete the puzzle — and maybe you can, with access to the pieces.
Now, it is likely true that solo practitioners and small firm attorneys have been disproportionately hurt by this long-term recession. In many cases, their referral pipelines have run dry — due to neglect of marketing, a practice area getting stale, or crashing or what have you. But, even while such a practitioner’s lack of an effective book of business ultimately did them in, that does not mean that that practitioner is without value as an attorney. Perhaps that person was not the superstar rainmaker, but there is always a need for good attorneys to bill the work the rainmakers do bring in. If a law firm managing partner can find a good attorney to handle overflow work, or specific cases in areas where the firm’s lawyers have not had extensive experience, that can be a highly effective, if underrated, hire.
Certainly, this is not an exhaustive list of the assumptions made about older legal professionals in the job market. There are as many stories as there are people looking for jobs. (In fact, I’ve talked to older legal professionals who want jobs for a variety of reasons unassociated with income. As I’ve said, many lawyers just love to practice, and don’t want to give it up.)
Each job applicant should be treated as a unique proposition, regardless of career longevity. In this way, those applicants become instead representative of the revelation of another broken-down stereotype.
Jared Correia is former 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. Follow @jaredcorreia.