Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
“If it was up to me, you couldn’t go to law school until you’re 35 years old.” Alan Gotthelf explained the simple logic of such a belief: “You should have some sense of the world.” A man of certain accomplishment in the fields of investment, education and computer science, Gotthelf is a fresh new face on the New York legal scene. But at age 59, job-hunting has not proved to be the most dignified time of his life. “I’m swimming against the tide,” said Gotthelf, who received his J.D. in June from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. “I graduated with a bundle of honors — the cum laude and all that. I thought people would be throwing offers at me.” Nobody threw. This despite a resume that showed a bachelor’s degree from City College, a master’s in American government from Cornell University, a man who ran his own software company, and who was mayoral candidate Mark Green’s first college teacher. “But I’m a positive guy. I’m a Mets fan, after all,” he said. “Before that, I was a [Brooklyn] Dodgers fan.” HOLOCAUST LAW With that spirit, along with the fact that Gotthelf said he does not feel comfortable hiding his light beneath a bushel, a job offer did finally come — although not a paying one. “I was born broke. So what difference does it make?” Gotthelf managed to parlay classroom research work on Holocaust law into a position that may well become the final chapter of his career — namely, assisting a team of plaintiffs’ attorneys in Raymond Abrams, et al v. Soci�t� Nationale des Chemins de Fer fran�ais, the federal case pending before Judge David G. Trager in the Eastern District of New York. Cardozo Professor Richard H. Weisberg and his class — “European Legal Systems & the Holocaust” — inspired Gotthelf’s interest in less than distinguished juridical history. Which led, in turn, to his research in aid of the resulting lawsuit, commonly known as SNCF. “Gotthelf’s academic participation, and his contributions to the seminar, and in the work he chose to do in SNCF were exceptional,” said Professor Weisberg, who also serves in a consortium of seven litigators for the plaintiffs. “We’re all doing this for the moment on a pro bono basis,” said Harriet Tamen, a Manhattan solo practitioner and lead attorney for the consortium, who appointed Gotthelf as a support staff lawyer. She said, “He’s done some excellent research for us, and he’s helped us with our papers.” The suit, which seeks class action status, accuses the French national railroad ( SNCF) of contracting with the Third Reich to transport Jews and other “undesirables” to Nazi concentration camps from 1942 until the liberation of Paris in 1944. Two weeks ago, said Tamen, oral arguments were heard before Judge Trager on SNCF’s motion to dismiss, based on a claim under the Federal Sovereign Immunity Act of 1976. The plaintiffs contend that the act was never meant to apply retroactively to crimes of genocide. “I wouldn’t mind using the rest of my life, and the rest of my powers and energies, in devotion to this case,” said Gotthelf. “Believe me, I have the energy. I go to the gym every day. “And Madame [Gotthelf's companion] is very supportive,” he added. “She’s no scaredy-cat. The kids at school are all enthusiastic, too.” AVERSION TO AGE The negative age reaction that Gotthelf felt during his rounds of the law firms was matched by reaction from surprising quarters of his personal life. “A couple of lawyer friends and a doctor, they asked if I was crazy,” Gotthelf said. “They’re guys my age, but they’re the winding-down types.” But just what are the chances of finding a first-year berth in a law firm when you happen to be fiftysomething and unwilling to call it quits? Campus placement officers say that such candidates can indeed find work, with a few provisos. “Many more employers are appreciating the value of a student with life experience — let’s say value-added experience,” said Joan A. King, director of career services at Brooklyn Law School. “Now, if during the interview process they come across as know-it-alls, that’s going to be a problem. “I’ve seen that happen,” she said. “But they get back on their feet once they’ve been through interview preparation.” Ellen Wayne, dean of career services at Columbia Law School, said there was a firm-side practical problem in hiring older graduates. “What used to be a five or six-year partner track is now a 10- to 12-year process,” said Dean Wayne. “Not that anybody’s said that, but that’s the reality. “But I’ve seen that when older students come to law school, they come for a purpose,” she added. “They’ve got quite a bit of experience in the business arena, and that network will get them to the right place.” On the other hand, a hiring partner at a major Manhattan firm was less sanguine. The partner, who asked for anonymity, said that business experience does not necessarily correlate to being a productive lawyer. “It’s like Michael Bloomberg running a business and thinking that means he can run the city,” the hiring partner said. “It all boils back down to where the student did his undergraduate work, what percentile of his law school class he graduated in, what his honors were, and what other factors on the resume can tell me if, when confronted with what it means to be a lawyer, he wouldn’t be horrified and bolt. “At the end of the day, talent is talent. But, at age 59? Well, it depends on whether the person showed the vigor it would take to put up with the hazing that happens to first-, second- and third-year associates.” SHOPPING FOR SCHOOLS If vigor is measured in getting quickly to the nub of a matter, Gotthelf is Charles Atlas. “When I was shopping for a law school, I’d call up the admissions offices and ask, ‘What do you think of old people?’ ” Gotthelf said. “ I was amused by the answer at Cardozo. They already had a euphemism. ‘Returning students,’ they called us.” Jacquelyn J. Burt, assistant dean of the Center for Professional Development at Cardozo, said current success in placing older students at the law firms was encouraging. “We’re careful to make sure that they have a clear picture of what the legal workplace entails,” said Dean Burt of her older students. “And we want them to understand that while their experience will be welcomed, they are also still entry-level practitioners in a new field.” Gotthelf said he appreciated the good advice — and certain other lessons he learned along the way. “You shouldn’t date a professor like I did,” he said, by way of example. She lived, but the relationship didn’t. “I’m retooling now, but I’m not retiring. In fact, I would never use the word ‘retiring’ for myself. I think I’ll fade away, like MacArthur.”

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.