Second-Career Lawyers: An Added Perspective to the “Young” Lawyer Experience
By Mercedes Pino
Mercedes Pino is an associate editor of The Affiliate and the Director of Career Services at the St. Thomas University School of Law in Miami Gardens, Florida.
The face of entering law students is changing. Since 2004, there has been a rise in the average age of law students, as well as in the number of students entering the legal profession after working in other careers. With this change in the average age of law school students comes the advent of older and second-career lawyers in the legal profession. Although these lawyers enter the profession with a certain level of maturity and unique backgrounds, they also face a number of challenges as they enter the practice of law—not the least of which is whether they will be able to connect with their younger, traditional counterparts. As a bar leader, you may be faced with the challenge of facilitating the interaction between your “young” and “new” lawyer members to ensure a comfortable and welcoming environment for both.
The Affiliate had the opportunity to speak with a few bar leaders and find out some of the issues they face with older/second-career lawyers and how they are addressing those issues. Some bar associations have adopted a new name, going from “Young Lawyers” to “New Lawyers.” Virjinia “Jina” Koultchitzka, a third-year associate with Alpern Meyers Stuart in New Mexico and Chair of the El Paso County New Lawyers Section (NLS), commented, “The name change took place some time ago. We used to be called the El Paso County Young Lawyers Division. The name, by itself, imposed some issues on membership by older attorneys [that is, second-career/older members] just coming into the practice of law.” Koultchitzka added, “Therefore, the El Paso County Board of Directors took a vote to change the Section’s name and made it more accessible and appealing to second-career/older members who needed the networking opportunities the Section offered.”
Scott Chitoff, a partner with Brinkley, Morgan, Solomon, Tatum, Stanley, Lunny & Crosby and President-Elect of Florida’s Broward County Bar Association Young Lawyers Section (BCBA YLS), said that, although the BCBA YLS has not changed its name, it ensures that everyone feels welcome in the section and at its events. Chitoff stated, “We have a slogan, ‘You don’t have to be young or be a lawyer to participate in our events.’” With programs that include wine tastings, a judicial reception, and a bowl-a-thon benefiting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Chitoff indicated that the BCBA YLS has a well-balanced turnout at most events. “More often than not, half of our attendees are not traditional young lawyers,” Chitoff commented.
When asked whether her association’s older/second-career members perceived bar events as merely social gatherings, Heather Rosing, President of the San Diego County Bar Association (SDCBA) and a shareholder at Klinedinst PC, responded, “While our Young New Lawyers Division (YNLD) is open to all attorneys who have been practicing seven years or less, we’ve found that it is the younger, first career members who are most active.” Rosing further commented, “Our YNLD does offer a wide range of activities, however, that are designed to appeal to attorneys of every age. In fact, the YNLD invites the general SDCBA membership to many of its events, so that there is a mix of age groups, as well as practice areas.” Rosing highlighted the efforts of the YNLD to dispel the “social” myth by adding, “Our YNLD does a tremendous amount of outreach to all its members, including a monthly e-newsletter. Those who read it understand that activities are geared to all age groups and that the YNLD is definitely not just a social group.”
Asked the same question about whether second-career members perceive her organization’s events as purely “social,” Koultchitzka had a different take. She stated, “Yes and no. I think it comes down to personalities and how comfortable you are to step outside of the box.” Illustrating that new lawyers—whether traditional or second-career—face challenges, Koultchitzka continued, “Some of the NLS members have raised concerns about how ‘older,’ ‘well-established’ local attorneys have treated them because they are ‘young’ and not as experienced yet.”
According to Koultchitzka, the NLS hosts, plans, and organizes several events including the annual fall El Paso County Wine and Beer Tasting event to benefit legal aid and pro bono work, an Ask-A-Lawyer program, and a variety of CLE and practical skills training programs to help both new and young lawyers’ develop their networking skills and gain a professional advantage in their law practices. Koultchitzka highlighted a specific CLE that is in the works and stated, “The NLS has proposed to put together and hold a CLE on this subject—the clash between the ‘young’ and the ‘older’ professionals in the legal system. We hope to be able to bring this topic to reality and discussion.”