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Roscoe Sandlin had a “grand time” as a student at Boston’s Suffolk Law School, but the party abruptly ended when the 58-year-old graduate failed to land a job upon earning his J.D. On paper, Sandlin, now a sole practitioner, could be viewed as a top candidate for many law firms. His grades were excellent. He spoke several languages. He even had legal experience through internships at the attorney general’s office in Boston, as well as at the Greater Boston Legal Services. In addition, Sandlin was a member of his law school’s moot court team, got elected as a representative to the school’s student bar association, and played a major role in an elder law clinic. But what Sandlin didn’t have going for him was his age, he said. What’s more, his work history of being self-employed didn’t help matters. A partner in a major Boston law firm even jokingly told him at a cocktail party, “You’re too old. No one wants you,” Sandlin recalled. After sending 107 resumes and receiving only three offers for futile interviews, Sandlin decided to hang his own shingle in Lenox, Mass. “I felt there was discrimination,” Sandlin maintained. “There was no direct, ‘You’re too damn old for this firm,’ but my not getting answers to my [employment search] was a telling sign.” Sandlin’s story is not unique, according to Boston attorney Linda Evans, of Rodgers, Powers & Schwartz. Evans’ study on age discrimination in the legal workplace was published in the Massachusetts Bar Association’s quarterly section review in May. A sociology professor emeritus with Central Connecticut State University, who received her law degree from the University of Connecticut School of Law, Evans trailed the career searches of some 60 law students in Massachusetts and Connecticut for one year starting in 1998 until their graduation. Her goal? To determine how prevalent age discrimination is for older law school graduates who generally seem to have more difficulty finding jobs upon entering the legal workplace. “I wondered how I could get at it,” said Evans, 56, on studying the issue. “It was a tricky situation.” PROVING IT’S THERE Proving such a claim is difficult, according to Evans and other attorneys. So, Evans decided to work with career counselors from four law schools in the two states in order to find students willing to participate in her study. She declined to name the schools they graduated from. Though many studies have been done on minority, gender and handicapped hiring, Evans said she had found no reports relating to older law grads. Through her study with the students, who ranged in age from 28 to 53, Evans substantiated that there is, indeed, a problem with age bias among law firms looking to hire recent graduates. Several of the students reported discrimination in terms of firms’ perceived “risks” in hiring older graduates. Such risks, according to Evans, include routinely asking older job candidates if they could take direction from younger associates, or would be willing to do “grunt” work for a few years — questions that were not asked to the younger study participants. Many of the older students later said they chose to circumvent on-campus interviews because they did not find them to be a successful aid in their job searches. They also reported that they often had to change strategies in trying to land jobs by hiding their age or extensive work experience. One 47-year-old student in Evans’ study said, after having trouble trying to land a job as a summer associate during his first year in law school, he tried to “sell” his age and experience. The man received only one call back out of 11 interviews, and was repeatedly asked why someone with his experience would want a job as an associate in a large law firm, the study found. In addition, the median age for the study participants who had landed full-time jobs by graduation was 29, compared to the median age of 34 for those without jobs by graduation. Seven months after graduation, the median age of participants who obtained jobs in the legal field increased to 30, while the median age of those students still without a legal position was 39. “Clearly, for older participants as a group, the job search process was more protracted than for their younger classmates,” Evans concluded. Sandlin, who was not part of Evan’s study, but wrote to her after seeing her article, said he too was asked similar questions. He, however, does not fault firms for bringing up such issues. “They are legitimate concerns,” Sandlin said. “But you do have to wonder how this stacks up.” THE VALUE OF WORK EXPERIENCE Still, Sandlin, who said one interviewer even asked, “How long do you plan to work,” said he could see where a firm might not want to hire him because he had been self-employed for many years prior to law school. “In fairness to the large law firms, they might look at me as someone who wouldn’t be able to take orders from others, or wonder why I would work for only $40,000 a year as a new associate,” said Sandlin, who previously was employed in the software industry. Charlene Allen, assistant dean and director of career services for Western New England College School of Law, said many students at the school, which, as of last fall, had an average freshman class age of 27, often inquired about possibility of landing jobs if they were older. “Many organizations value previous work experience,” Allen said. “[Older graduates] have been recruited into all of the legal sectors.” Evans admitted, through her study, that a factor hindering older law students was attending school only part-time while holding down full-time positions in other fields, as well as not being able to nail down legal work experience. Such students tend not to be as focused with their legal career track, a trait that is often easily visible to some legal employers. However, such factors do not completely answer questions of why older graduates felt compelled to circumvent on-campus interviewing, finesse the age issue or disown their employment histories, Evans said. “These job search strategies [reflect] a hiring process and/or a culture within law firms that is not age-neutral,” Evans wrote in her study. John J. Goldrosen, of Boston’s Choate, Hall & Stewart, graduated from Harvard Law School at age 46, and said he did experience trouble finding summer associate positions the first three years of law school. “I never got any job offers,” Goldrosen said. “When you are not getting offers, and your classmates are, you wonder ‘Is it me?’ There is a suspicion that age has something to do with it.” Goldrosen later found a summer job out of state at a law firm in New Hampshire, and landed a clerkship during his senior year with Supreme Judicial Court Justice John M. Greaney, whom, according to Goldrosen, likes to hire second career students. “I don’t think it is a conscious or intentional thing in most cases,” Goldrosen said of some firms passing over older applicants. “When you are asked ‘Why did you go to law school?’ there is a bit more of an edge than [for] 22- year-old faces. Some firms are concerned about how committed older students would be.” Goldrosen, along with other attorneys, has said once new lawyers land jobs, however, they have to hit the ground running. “We do well when we are here … it’s getting over the hurdle of getting in the door,” Goldrosen said. “There is a disconnect between the hiring process and what goes on after you are employed.” He added that, while an employer might have concerns over an older applicant’s family obligations, some firms are now finding that older attorneys tend to stay put because of such family or community ties, resulting in lower turnover rates.

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