The Age Factor: Perceptions That Impact Your Career
By Rashada N. Jamison
Rashada N. Jamison is a vice president with GolinHarris in Chicago. She may be reached at rashadajamison@yahoo.com.
Do you believe that experience is the best teacher? Do you agree that you can’t judge a book by its cover? Whether you subscribe to these clichés or not, as an attorney, you will be judged or judge others time and time again based on perceptions of age. Assumptions about age lead to assumptions about a person’s level of experience or ability. Often people make these assumptions after one look.
Have you ever heard any of the following phrases?

• He’s certainly too young to have experience in this area.”

• She appears to be a seasoned professional, so I trust she knows my situation well.”

• “We are looking for an energetic, eager candidate to join our firm.”

How much does perception about age affect decisions to select an attorney? Does an attorney who appears to be younger necessarily have less experience? Besides age, what other factors do people associate with a qualified attorney?
Before going any further, take the following quiz to evaluate your own perceptions about age and experience. Do you think the attorney in each scenario has been practicing law more or less than five years?

1. has tried a case before the Supreme Court

2. is committed to personal and family obligations so sticks to a start and stop time in the office

3. sits on a board for a leading national law association

4. is uncertain about the precedence set for a major issue within his or her area of focus

5. is licensed in multiple states

6. has practiced law in several areas such as criminal, civil, and organizational

There are no correct answers to these questions. The goal is to have you think about the perceptions and criteria by which you and others choose legal representation.
Put yourself in the shoes of a potential client. Based on your answers to the above quiz, consider the factors that affect your ultimate decision to select legal representation and how you align with those.
Present your experience, not your age. At the end of the day, experience is what instills trust. Be cognizant of your professional demeanor and attire. An organized, thoughtful professional typically looks and speaks that way.
Now, consider this:
An attorney who appears to be older and more experienced could be new to the field. Perhaps he or she has worked for many years in a different industry and now is fulfilling a long-term dream.
An attorney who appears to be younger could be extremely rich in knowledge from having studied diligently and having taken advantage of key opportunities within a short time frame.
An attorney who has been working in his or her field longer can appear, and may indeed be, a more qualified, knowledgeable resource and subject-matter expert.
There are a number of factors, including overall chemistry, philosophy, and subject-matter competency that ultimately determine how suitable the pairing of any professional is with a potential client, employer, or organization.
Whether you are selecting legal representation or are being considered to represent someone, give thought to what factors are most important to you and make an informed decision.
Ready Resources
• Through the Client’s Eyes: New Approaches to Get Clients to Hire You Again and Again, Second Ed. 2002. PC # 5110480. Law Practice Management Section.
To order online, visit www.ababooks.org.
 

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