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After 13 years as a public school teacher, and 13 years as a home-schooling parent, Ann McDonough decided to make a second career in law. But as a 53-year-old newly practicing attorney, her options were limited, she said. “I knew I wouldn’t do a big law firm because I’m not willing do 70 to 80 hours a week,” she said. “Don’t need to do that at age 53. And I would have a short lifespan at a law firm. And they aren’t looking at someone my age.” McDonough is now making a career as a solo practitioner in Lancaster, Ohio. Like many other law school graduates above the age of 40, solo or small-firm practice seems to be the best second-career option. According to the National Association for Law Placement, 53% of law graduates who are at least 36 years old and go into private practice opt to either go solo or into firms with fewer than 10 attorneys, based on statistics from the 2005 graduating class. Only 17% join law firms that have more than 250 attorneys. This is because most law students older than 40 aren’t prepared to make the time commitment needed at larger firms. Also, they do not have as much leeway to relocate for work because of families, said Brett Gilbert, assistant dean for career services at Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center in Huntington, N.Y., where 6% of the 2006 entering class was older than 40. Not as ‘moldable’? But for the small percentage who want to try for larger firms, they worry about age discrimination and whether they will be treated the same as younger students, Gilbert said. Dawn Bowie, who graduated law school at 45, applied to a dozen midsize and large firms in Maryland. “I did very well in law school, but people were not interested in me,” she said. “It could be because of my age, and also because I worked for years as a paralegal where I learned a lot and was not as ‘moldable.’ It’s not an attractive feature for a firm.” Bowie said she had no choice but to go into solo practice. She now practices family law in Rockville, Md. Sandy Chamblee, a partner at Washington-based Steptoe & Johnson LLP, said the firm does not look at how old someone is before they hire, and she would be “really concerned if any firm wouldn’t consider someone because they are over 40.” The firm has 413 attorneys, according to The National Law Journal’s 2006 survey of the nation’s 250 largest law firms. Seth Lloyd, a partner in Dykema Gossett’s Detroit office, said the firm is mostly enthusiastic about any candidate who has experience from the working world before law school, but it has very few applicants who were above the age of 40 while in law school. And in the past, a few second-career candidates hired by Dykema did not work out as well as the 341-attorney firm would have liked. “Many leave because it was awkward for them to be an associate and taking assignments from someone who is chronologically younger,” he said. Taking orders from anyone, older or younger, was not something Gregory Napier wanted to do when he decided to become a lawyer. At age 40, he graduated law school knowing that he was an entrepreneur at heart and wanted to be his own boss. But he gave a larger law firm a shot when he worked as a summer associate after his second year of law school for Woodward, Hobson & Fulton, a 57-attorney firm in Louisville, Ky. “If I had gone to that firm as a brand new grad from college, and didn’t have an established family, I would have loved it there,” he said. But he said he realized what large firms are looking for — someone to be a partner and a rainmaker and “churn a whole lot of work out of.” It wasn’t what he was looking for in his second career.

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