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Being a young lawyer

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We see a lot of threads where people ask about going to law school at a later age, but what are the experiences of all those young lawyers out there (mostly those who go to law school at 21 and 22 right out of undergrad) As a lawyer who is 25 or 26, how are you finding the legal profession, your work, how employers, peers, and laypersons perceive you, etc. Anyone feel free to share your thoughts on this. 

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As someone who went straight through from undergrad my experience thus far is that no one gives a flying potato sack about your age as a young lawyer (though I appreciate this may be slightly different for more mature students). Based on my experiences thus far you will be judged on your work, your attitude, and your professionalism. 

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I'm not a K-JD'er (took off one year after undergrad to work), but I'm still relatively young and in my first few months of practice. I've had experiences where clients have refused to work with me, not trusted my advice, spoken down to me, or mistaken me for a law clerk/ assistant. Some of this, I suspect, is a function of being a new call, but I do think some of this behaviour is linked to being a young female, in a profession where people historically expect to be working with an older man. 

I imagine that these types of experiences are even more common for young, racialized women in the profession. 

https://www.thespec.com/news-story/9180528--you-don-t-look-like-a-lawyer-female-lawyers-and-lawyers-of-colour-angered-by-mistaken-identity-in-court/

 

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I mirror LEJ's comments above, and add one personal opinion/observation.

One of the most crucial things necessary to my growth as a young lawyer is to always remember that I am still a 'student' with so, so much to learn. This does not mean that I can't be confident about my skills and the value I can bring to any client, nor does it mean that I shouldn't constantly exercise my own strategy, critical-thinking and problem solving skills (and expect others to do so). It just means that I have to constantly look at my trusted colleagues, mentors, principals etc., as a constant source of learning (and this should never really cease). I think most senior colleagues/mentors/principals expect that attitude from me as well. I actually find it easier to do this as a recent call in his mid 20's, because I'm somewhat used to assuming the role of a 'student,' something I've done my whole life. I'm therefore respected and trusted precisely for 'knowing my place.'

Sometimes I see colleagues who entered into the law with a previous career struggle a little bit with this; precisely because they are not used to being a 'student' and it may bruise the ego a bit to be back at the bottom of the pecking order. There are pros: I think mature entrants into this profession tend to bring more confidence and practicality into their work because of their life experience.  Because they may be from the same generation as more senior lawyers, developing friendship/collegiality may come a bit easier. However,  despite the above,  if a mature entrant forgets they are still a 'student,' it will reflect in their growth, practice management skills, and their work; other senior counsel can see that.

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16 minutes ago, ghoulzrulez said:

I'm not a K-JD'er (took off one year after undergrad to work), but I'm still relatively young and in my first few months of practice. I've had experiences where clients have refused to work with me, not trusted my advice, spoken down to me, or mistaken me for a law clerk/ assistant. Some of this, I suspect, is a function of being a new call, but I do think some of this behaviour is linked to being a young female, in a profession where people historically expect to be working with an older man. 

I imagine that these types of experiences are even more common for young, racialized women in the profession. 

https://www.thespec.com/news-story/9180528--you-don-t-look-like-a-lawyer-female-lawyers-and-lawyers-of-colour-angered-by-mistaken-identity-in-court/

 

I've had clients refuse to have me work on their cases because they perceive me to be incompetent, naive, a pushover, etc. I was also once mistaken as the accused by a judge (my client was sitting next to me, also in a suit, but they are white... whole host of issues there).

I think you just learn to not take it personally and move on. From a client's point of view, they come to a lawyer because they need assistance with issues that could have life-altering consequences. Obviously, they want some assurance that they are going to have counsel who are competent; especially when the client is paying them a small fortune. I know I would want that. As a young lawyer, I try to understand those concerns and try to alleviate them as best I can. Most of the clients who initially refused to work with me over time recognized that I'm not completely incompetent. I also have a very steady and measured style of speaking, which tends to convey maturity; so I find speaking to clients either on the phone or face to face usually calms them down. It also helps that I have the support of the senior partners and they will sell me to the client. At the same time, I know what I can do and what I can't do. A sure way to torpedo your budding reputation is to take on something that is beyond your competency.

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I'm a K-JD, and a junior lawyer. The only time my age has come up has been with the odd d-bag opposing counsel, and I'm pretty sure that's driven moreso by me being junior than by me being young.  I can't imagine those lawyers (who are VERY few and far between, just to be clear) would treat me any differently if I was 2-3 years older but had the same year of call.

Edited by beyondsection17

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10 minutes ago, beyondsection17 said:

I can't imagine those lawyers (who are VERY few and far between, just to be clear) would treat me any differently if I was 2-3 years older but had the same year of call.

I was going to say something along these lines...I was VERY young when I was called.  I finished law school at 22.  But I don't think people are so good at guessing the ages of other people that they wouldn't have assumed I was 23, 24, 25, etc.  

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I entered law school directly from undergraduate school and I look around 18-21 (I'm 27). I've never had an issue in the legal profession. Outside of it, most of the time people don't think I'm a lawyer until I've talked for a few minutes. I've never taken it personal because I've always looked young. I also don't subscribe to the culture of self-importance that some legal professions seem to have. Also, for what it's worth, most regular people I've met volunteering or at social events don't actually like lawyers, so I have no issue with being mistaken for someone else. 

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I was young, like ProfReader. 

People don’t like lawyers who feel the need to shove their lawyerness down the throats of everyone at X Social Event. And a lot of young lawyers fall into that trap. You try to make it, so you fake it, and then you forget to turn it off... and you become that idiot at the bar. 

Indulge in some self awareness, bite your cheek, and ask about the other person first - and you’re usually fine. 

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The first time I sat down in the house to support a minister in debate he looked at me and said "who are you, go get [the old guy]".

Only happened the one time with that minister though.   

 

Had some other side's counsel try some stupid mind games on me when I was being examined for discovery one time as well under the assumption I was young and could get easily flustered.

Edited by kurrika
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I went from undergrad straight to law school. I remember when I was 26 and practicing law, I let slip to some clients (in house) my age. Some of them actually got angry--because they had been working for a number of years in their field, yet by company policy they had to run their contracts by me. Someone said, "what?! you're 26?! and I have to listen to you?" From that experience I never tell people my age. I'm quite a bit older now, but I still don't really let people know how old I am, just in case ;)

Edited by tanx
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I am not only a young lawyer but a young woman in a very male dominated industry. I do not tell my clients my age even when they try to guess (yes, this has happened). Very few people know how old I am because in my experience it does make a difference how I am treated.

I used to be extremely self-conscious about my age but I'm now at a stage where I do not let it bother me but I don't advertise it either. 

Bottom line - you can't change your age. Work hard, do your best and be professional.

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Christ thats wild couldnt imagine being done/even starting law school at 22. <22 i couldnt even think straight and my main life goal was prob just to prestige 10 times on call of duty

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I finished law school at 25 and went straight into criminal law. I'm now 28 (male) and my age is a constant topic - I look significantly younger than I am, to the point that most people assume I'm still in high school. The main issue I have is that, despite 2.5 years of practice, my clients always assume their file is my first trial.

I've lost track of the number of trials I've done in provincial court, I've done a half dozen in Supreme, and run a successful jury trial. I know I'm not the most experienced lawyer out there, but I've still put together a nice little resume. The downside is when I lose a significant case (and I've lost a couple), it's not uncommon for my client to make an allegation of incompetent counsel. It never goes anywhere, and I've learned to see it coming from a mile away: I'll advise a client what will happen if we do A, B, or C, and why D is an absolute no go. They'll inevitably want to do D. I refuse. They refuse to give any instruction other than D. We are mid trial, I can't get out now. I make a note. We end up going down the road of option D. I make a note. Client gets convicted and fires me in court when the conviction comes down. "I had it beat, but my lawyer ruined me". Every time. 

Other lawyers are great, they usually remember being fresh out and clueless. Employer is great and has my back, but that comes with doing good work. 

I've learned to take advantage of professional development opportunities, do my research, stay up to date on recent decisions to a reasonable degree and put copious notes of conversations in my files. Also tried growing a beard to look my age, but it looked more like I was in grade 8 trying to grow a dirt 'stache for the school leaving dance. C'est la vie. 

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I've never personally seen my age affect anything but I do have a friend who had a client fire her the first time she showed up in bail court to do a bail hearing because she was a new call and he didn't want his hearing to be done by a 'baby lawyer'. But again, I think that had less to do with age and more to do with the fact that she was like a month into practice and it was her first bail hearing.

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I wasn't particularly young when I started practice, but did look a lot younger than I was. There's not anything specific I can point to, but I did feel like people started to treat me with more gravitas when I grew a beard about two years in. I'm not sure it was about that - it may have just been my improving confidence with two years under my belt - but it sure felt like it at the time.

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14 minutes ago, Jaggers said:

I wasn't particularly young when I started practice, but did look a lot younger than I was. There's not anything specific I can point to, but I did feel like people started to treat me with more gravitas when I grew a beard about two years in. I'm not sure it was about that - it may have just been my improving confidence with two years under my belt - but it sure felt like it at the time.

I would agree 100%. If you look very young when you are clean shaven try growing a beard (assuming that you are able).  I can't think of anyone that looks young when they have a beard!

Also, I would keep your age to yourself. It rarely comes up anyways unless you are openly broadcasting it.

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I am a K-JD, and have been called for a few years. I look young for my age and fit into several “diversity” categories, so I definitely get mistaken for a clerk or assistant, and sometimes articling student. More often than not, it’s from non-lawyers and clients.

Many of the downsides have been set out by the posters above. I haven’t had a client straight up ask not to work with me, but they definitely provide deference to others, who are usually older white males. Whether it’s their partner title, their gender, their perceived age/experience, or a mix of those, I try not to let it get to me. There are a few advantages, though. Back when I did litigation, I felt that the court clerks felt pity for me and would be more patient in giving me advice on next steps (which I appreciated because I was a clueless articling student). I’ve also found it helpful when the clients asked questions way above my billing rate to advise them that I’ll speak to a partner. You can try mitigating this by dressing and acting professionally at all times, being very prepared, having as much pre-law work experience as you can, etc., but you can’t change everyone’s perception of you. I just try to remind myself that if those judgemental people don’t change their mind after seeing the quality of my work, there’s nothing I can do, and I should reallocate my effort and time elsewhere. If I were a sole practitioner or actively building my book of business, this would definitely be a lot more troubling to me. I foresee this becoming an issue if I try to become partner or if I go in-house and want the VP of Operations to take my advice instead of scoffing, but again, most of this will be out of my control.

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I was not a young law student - I started at 27 - but I look much younger than my age.

I've never found it to be an issue with other lawyers, but clients do comment on it, which I find really frustrating. Some people come right out and ask if I'm old enough to be a lawyer.  Sometimes if I can tell they're thinking it and not saying anything, I'll find a way to shoehorn the fact that I've been practicing for 5 years into the conversation. I know I shouldn't let it bug me, but it does.

The best way around the issue is just to show people what you're capable of.

 

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