THE frequency of tales regarding those leaving behind a career as a lawyer to pursue options outside the profession appears to be growing, however it appears that it’s not all one-way traffic.
An increasingly vocal and frustrated community of “would-be lawyers” — composed mainly of mature-aged graduates — has united to tell firms that they are not too old to learn the new tricks of the law.
Under the auspices of the Law Institute of Victoria’s Young Lawyers committee, a new section, Later Lawyers, will be officially launched on 2 October.
Its current co-chair, 40-year-old Deborah Bucher, acknowledges that she may be green in terms of legal experience, having only recently been admitted. But while according to the formal definition — under 36 years of age or with fewer than five years experience — she is a Young Lawyer, the tag just doesn’t seem to fit.
“Those who enter the law later in life, don’t see themselves as fitting into the ‘young’ category,” said Bucher, currently working her way towards an in-house counsel position with Village Roadshow. “They tend to have a very different perspective on life and are not interested in social events that involve bar hopping.”
The problem facing Bucher and her contemporaries is that, like any profession, the law is one in which networks — of a professional nature at least — are crucial. Having not entered directly with a gaggle of associates from school and university, but instead from a variety of different routes, the elder statesmen and women are sometimes overlooked once inside.
“I do think it is a profession in which who you know, rather than what you know, can be important,” Bucher said. “A lot of lawyers get into the position they are now in via networks.”
Despite still being a month away from its launch, Later Lawyers has already attracted more than 30 members. One of those is Carol Geyer, who says she doesn’t mind mixing it with people in their early twenties every now and then. “But I’m a bit past late night drinking and picking up sessions!” she said.
Currently in the midst of her articled clerkship with suburban Melbourne firm Moores Legal, Geyer realises she is one of the lucky ones in a tough graduate market that is skewed towards juniors.
“The profession wants young people — as their glossy brochures and slick web sites, festooned with fresh young faces, clearly show,” she said.
The stereotype of ‘young lawyers’ perpetuated by such discourse is exactly what these late bloomers seek to shatter. They want to remind firms that despite being longer, their teeth have already been cut.
“Later lawyers all have past lives and bring a wealth of different experiences to the table,” said Geyer, who sacrificed money and stability as a physiotherapist to pursue her dream. “They’ve all lived in the business world.”
When asked to volunteer why older candidates may be viewed as less attractive, the “blank canvas” was hoisted.
“Maybe [firms] think that older people will be less compliant and they will perhaps not as likely be a blank canvas that they can mould,” Geyer said. “But there’s got to be upsides. Someone like myself is more likely to stick around. I haven’t made the significant sacrifice to study and take a pay cut to just get up and leave.”