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Overcoming Age Bias Against Older Lawyers

Winston Churchill, the British prime minister who inspired world-wide resistance against a raging Adolph Hitler, gave his most famous speech when he was 67 years old.

"Give us the tools, and we will finish the job," he said, responding to a letter from President Franklin D. Roosevelt after Germany bombed London.

Even though people sometimes dismiss the words of an older generation, that rally cry changed the world. In the law, especially for younger lawyers, it is important to recognize that age may in fact be the source of wisdom.

Like Old Wine

Age discrimination among lawyers is a real issue -- especially in the rising generation of millennials. Younger attorneys come into the law game with computer skills they mastered when they were pre-teens. If it weren't for President Trump, most older attorneys wouldn't know the difference between a "Tweet" and "Tweety."

The technological lag-time, however, is not necessarily a cognitive lag-time. According to psychologists at Harvard and the University of Toronto, mature brains are more creative and better at unconventional problem-solving than younger ones. Like aging wine, the aging mind may actually be wiser.

While older usually means slower, the research shows that slower processing can lead to better solutions. Mature lawyers, for example, draw upon their experience to associate more information in abstract problem-solving. The enhanced ability, ironically, stems from the diminished ability to focus on a specific task that often comes with age.

Although even 80-year-old Anthony Kennedy must retire someday, there is a meaningful place for older lawyers in the modern law business.

Problem-Solving

Seth Horowitz, president of Horowitz Agency, an integrated marketing agency that specializes in the legal industry, says law firms that work with aging lawyers will be more successful than those that push them out. He said law firms need to think strategically about using their skills to help the business grow.

"You have to be creative with them, you have to re-create their role," Horowitz said.

For example, older attorneys can mentor younger lawyers, develop firm business, or do outreach through advisory boards and other organizations. Like a tool set, it's about using lawyers with the right skill set to get the job done.

As for older lawyers working with clients, age discrimination doesn't exist as much between people who are the same age. Trust and confidence are more relevant.

"Anyone who's bringing in over a million is going to be immune to all of this," Horowitz said. "They'll always have a place to sit if they're bringing in seven figures."

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