Finding work is hard for older attorneys and requires a unique set of approaches. Harrison Barnes, longtime legal recruiter, has written an explanation of the “top ten reasons why older attorneys have a more difficult time getting law firm jobs,” and suggests what can be done about it. Having placed countless attorneys in law firm positions, Barnes concludes that “It is very, very tough being an older attorney.” Why should this be?
First off, Barnes explains, law firm culture prefers young attorneys, and this for many reasons. They bill less and they generally generate more business. Older attorneys who generate business are “always employable” he notes, but also points out that the higher billing rates of older attorneys make firms less likely to hire them.
Further, young attorneys work harder. They are a fixed cost, but they are willing to work much more than older folk — 70 to 80 hours a week on the hope of impressing their employers, oblivious to the reality that they will soon burn themselves out and leave the firm anyway. Ten years of such a demanding schedule, and few lawyers wish to sustain it. By the time they are older and have families, being so married to the job no longer holds appeal.
Older attorneys not only expect more reasonable hours, but a higher salary. It’s built into the structure of law firms, that experience gets paid more. Even if senior attorneys would take less, the firms often can’t pay them less. Or when they do, offering them junior pay, and weaker titles, firms find they can’t hold such partners, and that they will be looking for something better elsewhere.
The dynamic of working with older attorneys may turn some firms off. They may have grown bitter or lost their fire for the law. They’ve gone through too much, and may have grown jaded. They are less likely to wing it to the bar after work to share a few drinks with younger partners, having families to go home to. They also may have picked up some occupational baggage, such as demerits on their reputation. A young attorney lacks such baggage simply by the fact of having a blank slate. Older attorneys have had a long career so far, and in that, many things can go wrong, such as a malpractice claim, or discipline from a previous firm.
Finally, there are all the stereotypes that come with older people in general: they may retire, they may have health problems, they may be stuck in their ways and unwilling to learn the latest practices and methods in law, and, being less hirable than a young attorney, might put up more of a fight if they are fired, alleging discrimination.
Barnes explains how these perceptions can dissuade firms from taking on senior partners. He also suggests how older partners can circumvent the obstacles and make their way through. Having some awareness of the situation you are likely to be in, even if you are a young attorney, can help you map your career path, and avoid any disappointments late in the game.