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Ask any of these late-blooming gentlemen of the New York bar — Derryl Zimmerman, Peter C. Johnson, Alan Gotthelf and Richard M. Blank — and they will offer assuring counsel to their contemporaries: You can be a young lawyer at any age. Sure, there are disadvantages to joining the profession a tad late in life. But there are advantages, too. So said those who took part in a recent seminar at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York entitled “Starting a Career in Law After Age 30.” Take the case of Johnson, freshly 59 years old and one of the City Bar panel speakers. “I found out I passed the bar exam on May 10, 1996, the same day that my first grandchild was born,” said Johnson, a self-described “geezer” and former off-Broadway and regional stage actor who earned his J.D. at New York Law School. “In school, I decided to specialize — in my case, Internet law. Specializing helps [older students] make their expectations realistic.” That decision panned out for Johnson when he was hired as an associate by Debevoise & Plimpton. He recently left the firm to pursue a new agenda as an adjunct professor of cyberlaw at his alma mater and as counsel to the American Foundation for the Blind. Carolyn B. Levine, a partner at Hughes, Hubbard & Reed who co-chairs her firm’s recruiting committee, said of middle-aged lawyers in general, “I find they’re very focused. They have a real level of maturity and commitment to this professional shift, which makes them very interesting people.” Zimmerman, 48, has been a lawyer for seven years, the past year as an assistant attorney general in the state attorney general’s Investment Protection Bureau. “When I was a younger babe, I knew I wasn’t serious enough to be a lawyer,” said Zimmerman, also a New York Law graduate. “So I took my time.” He spent that time in the hotel industry, sports and entertainment, and arts festival promotion. With these experiences, said Zimmerman, “I’d exhausted anything I wanted to do in life besides the law. So now law school was the place to go. “You need passion for it because there are so many moments when you doubt what you’ve gotten yourself into,” he added. “Passion gets you through.” ENHANCING BUSINESS ACUMEN Richard Blank, 45, is an example of many older law school students who see a J.D. as a means of enhancing established business enterprises. As a licensing and marketing professional for 20 years with R&R Licensing, Ltd., he and his attorney partner, Robert Greener, have augmented R&R with the law firm Greener & Blank. Their most recent deal was securing North American rights to the sale of British royal home and garden reproductions. “What a licensing company does involves many legal issues,” said Blank. “I always found a much better comfort level having lawyers as partners in my business ventures.” It seemed only natural for Blank to become a lawyer himself. Because he had just bought a home in Westchester County and because his wife was pregnant at the time, Blank applied to exactly one campus: Pace Law School in White Plains. Even though his hands were full, Blank said he did not find law school burdensome. “It’s not like advanced calculus, it’s stories about the rules of law and how they’re applied, which is so very interesting,” he said. “My business experience helps me tremendously in school because in business you have to be a good manager. Law school is all about management and organization.” ‘MOTIVATED BY CURIOSITY’ Alan Gotthelf, a 62-year-old graduate of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, works as a court attorney for the state Supreme Court in Manhattan. He was in his late 50s when he attended classes at Cardozo, “motivated by curiosity, not economics since my stock portfolio was thriving.” Unlike Johnson, Gotthelf did not bother about interviewing with large private firms after earning his law degree. “There’s no question I would not be a good fit [at a large firm],” said Gotthelf. “I’d be the one who says the emperor has no clothes.” Still, said Levine, “The most important factors in becoming a good lawyer are having a lot of brain power and common sense, and being a person with interests and experiences you can bring to the table when dealing with clients. “Older students bring that,” she said. “Which can be appealing to the person hiring them.” But in that interview process, what of the elephant in the room known as ageism? “Law firms have a certain mindset,” said Johnson. “They want Harvard and Yale, and they want their [associates] to be about 25 years old. So, look, you’re just not going to get the interviews that younger grads get.” Levine acknowledged such concern. “Ageism is a real fear, and I understand the legitimacy of that fear,” she said. “But I think [older new lawyers] should try to turn age and experience into a selling point. They should put that right up front.” Gotthelf agreed. “Special competency transcends age consideration,” he said. “A talented electrical engineer, say, goes out and gets a J.D. A patent firm will pull him in by his ears.”

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