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The perception of being "over the hill" is an unfortunate reality many older attorneys face in the legal profession. Ageism rears its ugly head through implicit biases, overt discrimination, and systemic barriers against seasoned practitioners. Though age is just a number, outdated societal views of aging can negatively impact hiring, advancement, and overall treatment of senior attorneys.
At 78 years old, Professor John Smith has likely encountered his fair share of ageist assumptions and attitudes during his long legal career. Many may dismiss Professor Smith as outdated, resistant to change, technologically incompetent, and generally behind the times. Of course, these stereotypes ignore the wealth of expertise and wisdom he has accrued over decades in the field. Unfortunately, such experience is often undervalued compared to the perceived vitality and tech-savviness of younger attorneys.
This bias manifests through lowered expectations of productivity and competence. Older attorneys may be pigeonholed into less demanding roles or quietly pushed out of firms. As Carolyn Elefant, solo practitioner and author of "Solo by Choice: How to Be the Lawyer You Always Wanted to Be," shared, "There is still tremendous age bias in large law firms. Older attorneys are tolerated but generally not respected or included in the action."
Subtle and overt discrimination impedes opportunities for mentorship, leadership roles, and career development. Mandatory retirement policies force capable attorneys into premature retirement. As the American Bar Association noted, some firms impose de facto retirements through pressures to step down at a certain age. Firms driven by the bottom line often view older attorneys as an economic liability.