Let’s make the legal industry in 2018 about talent, not age

I have always believed success should be about talent, but the workplace can often tell a very different story. Office politics of course plays its part, but I’m certain age plays another. And I’m not just talking about discrimination suffered by older workers, I’m talking about younger ones too.

The old

But let’s start with the greying population. The Ministry of Justice told me they don’t break down employment tribunal statistics into such granular detail as to reveal ageism cases, so we have to look to other research.

Earlier this year Sunlife claimed 62% of the 50,000 people it surveyed believed they had lost out on a job because of age discrimination. That’s a decent sample size and a shocking statistic.

It’s a problem only likely to affect more older people. The Office of National Statistics tell us the population of the UK is getting older with 18% aged 65 and over.

I think it’s very unlikely that the legal industry is immune to this age discrimination issue.

Forced retirement is perhaps too strong a word but it is certainly the case, from the conversations I have had with the hundreds of lawyers I have interviewed for consultancy roles since 2009, that older lawyers often feel the goodwill within their firm falls away as they age. But why should it be that once you reach your 60s that your value as a lawyer diminishes?

I question if enough law firms are taking advantage of the huge knowledge and talent their older workforce still offer. How many are offering consultancy roles to their partners when they retire? My guess: it’s not enough.

We don’t have an age limit on our consultants because we believe if they were talented when they were young they’re even more talented now with decades of experience behind them. And do not underestimate their ability to inspire confidence as trusted advisors, particularly within the business sector. Our oldest consultant, barrister Richard Sowler, is 74. I have no doubt he’ll still be delivering a brilliant legal service to his clients for many years to come.

The young

A survey by the BBC last year revealed that one in five people claimed to have been a victim of ageism. Those most affected were aged 55-64, but the second biggest group was 18-34 year olds.

This doesn’t surprise me. From what I’ve seen and from what I’ve been told, the old AND young don’t get the recognition they deserve.

According to research carried out by Origin Legal last year, it takes around 10 years to make partner. That doesn’t seem right to me. If it takes you half that time to get your skills to the required level and you have the innate ability to bring in clients, why should you have to wait another five years before you get your name above the door?

At Setfords we only have a minimum PQE level of five years before we’ll consider taking you on as a consultant. If you’re talented and can bring in business, who are we to hold you back?

Age should not be a barrier to success

Let me be quite transparent, I want more lawyers to become consultants, young and old. I believe it benefits them in multiple ways that go beyond their ability to achieve the rewards they deserve. Taking control of your destiny and your work-life balance is what it is to be empowered and we have hundreds of lawyers fulfilling their true potential and enjoying a happier life in the process, of all ages.

But even if consultancy isn’t for you I would encourage you to question if your age is what is holding you back, and if it is, hold your employer to account. Age should not define any of us in any industry. In fact, the very idea of ageism, well, it’s really getting old.

Guy Setford
Guy Setford
CEO, Setfords Solicitors

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