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Question: What are your thoughts about hiring older, second-career law school graduates? I have noticed that many of the larger firms that visit our top-ten school pooh-pooh the question and yet cannot point to one older, second-career hire. Naturally, being precisely that — an older, second-career student — this worries me. I’m actually seriously considering dropping out of school. The last thing I need in the second half of life is to saddle myself with a debt the size of a decent mortgage for a condo just so that I can end up market poison. (By the way, I was a creative director and vice president/director of production in a nationally placed ad agency working with top clients. I thought this would make me more marketable, but here it is my first-year summer, and I did not get one paying job.) Answer: Despite the increasing experience of law firms with second-career lawyers, there remains a deep reservoir of ignorance and misunderstanding in some areas. You may encounter any number of negative perceptions from lawyers who simply do not have enough experience with second-career lawyers to understand their unique capabilities and potential. These negative perceptions can take many forms, such as: � The view that a second-career lawyer “couldn’t hack it” in a prior career. � The view that a second-career lawyer may lack the vigor of a younger colleague. � The view that a second-career lawyer will not be able to take directions well from younger supervisors. � The view that a second-career lawyer who took longer to finish law school (perhaps on a night program) somehow is less qualified than a lawyer who followed the ordinary law school course. At bottom, all of these perceptions are mere prejudices, based on the assumption that someone who is different from the “normal” new lawyer is somehow inadequate or difficult to work with. Confronting such prejudices can be challenging, but not impossible. The following are a few suggestions for finding, and developing, a successful position as a second-career lawyer. Do some homework. It is possible to determine whether a law firm or other prospective employer has some history of hiring and developing second-career lawyers (or the converse). You may wish to inquire of your school’s placement office in this regard. Do not be satisfied, however, with only those employers that choose to interview on campus. Spread your field of investigation widely. Often, some of the most flexible and innovative law firms are “hidden treasures,” in the sense that they may not visit every major law firm campus. If you learn of such a firm, do not hesitate to make contact. If you must, go “cold” with your contacts (a well-tailored r�sum� and a sharp cover letter). But look for any contacts that may be able to help you (faculty members who may have experience with firms and other employers, or even your former advertising agency colleagues, who may have law firm contacts). Aggressively follow up on any leads you may get. Persistence pays. In interviews with perspective employers, focus on the positive. Yours is a path that may not have been as easy, perhaps, as those of some of your colleagues. Your experiences should stand up well against some of the classic prejudices against second-career lawyers. If you have already maintained a successful career, you have shown dedication and a willingness to work hard. There should be little question about your vigor. The same goes for questions about your ability to work for younger supervisors. It is quite possible that your prior experience put you into contact with a wide range of supervisors (both older and younger). Your ability to function in a diverse working environment may have been established by that prior experience. At a minimum, your maturity may make it easier for you to adopt an attitude of humility (“I know I don’t know everything about the law; I want to learn as much as I can”) than it is for younger colleagues, who may feel that they need to prove themselves as superstars immediately. Be prepared to talk about yourself and your experiences in ways that may help to dispel any negative perceptions, and focus on your potential. Indeed, you should take advantage of the fact that your unusual background may often be a subject of curiosity among the recruiting lawyers you meet. Respond to such curiosity (which might potentially reveal some prejudice) with your story, emphasizing what you have to offer the firm. Beyond confronting the prejudices that some lawyers may have, there are a few additional points about your experience that may be attractive to employers. You should consider how you can best trade on such experiences. Consider: � It is possible that your prior employers or acquaintances may be useful business contacts for a law firm. In your case, a law firm with clients in the advertising or public relations fields may find you a valuable addition. Bring such potential contacts to the attention of the firm. � It is possible that your membership in professional organizations may also be useful to the firm. The organization, for example, might be interested in a seminar put together with lawyers from the firm, and you might help facilitate such a seminar. The organization’s members might also be a source of expertise for litigation and other matters involving the firm. Again, if appropriate, bring such possibilities to the attention of recruiters. Finally, it is important to note that your first-summer experience is not unique. Most major law firms operate on a recruiting cycle that focuses on the second summer of law school. Many law students (even at good schools, with good records) have difficulty finding first-summer employment. Many law students choose low pay (or even no pay) internships with judges, government agencies, public service organizations or law school professors, as a way to gain some experience, even if it is not at a major firm. If you missed out on such experiences during your first summer, you may consider seeking such internships on a part-time basis, during the law school year. Do not be discouraged by early setbacks, or the sense that there are obstacles to overcome. Few law students have a perfect path to employment, and there is no such thing as the perfect employer for every law student. Your challenge is the same as for every other student — to find an employer that offers a chance to learn, to develop new professional skills and to develop and maintain a satisfying practice. As a second-career lawyer, you should have confidence that your experience in setting and accomplishing goals like this will serve you well. Steven C. Bennett, a partner at Jones Day and author of The Path to Partnership: A Guide for Junior Associates , will reply to your questions about law firm life and career issues. Submit your question to Mr. Bennett at the National Law Journal.

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