Bench & Bar of Minnesota is the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

The advantages of hiring an older law school graduate

Are you looking to hire a new lawyer who will be conscientious, innovative, motivated, and productive? Minnesota law schools have 68 J.D. students whom you might not have considered, but they fit that description. These 68 students are age 50 or over, and industrial/organizational psychology1 studies have shown that older employees are more likely to possess these desirable attributes than younger colleagues. 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics projects that in 2019, 24 percent of the workforce will be age 55 or older. Yet discrimination based on age is rampant.2 Negative stereotyping of older workers occurs quickly3 and these types of stereotypes are resistant to change.4 Those who harbor the stereotypes subconsciously ignore the many individuals who don’t conform to their beliefs.5

Yet there is data to refute those stereotypes of older employees. 

1. Stereotype: They are less productive.

Age is actually positively correlated with productivity measures, but older employees are often more negatively rated by supervisors than their peers.6 Older workers multitask as effectively as younger workers7 and are more adept at adapting job tasks to take advantage of personal strengths.8 Older employees have fewer counterproductive work behaviors, such as aggression and substance abuse, compared to their younger colleagues.9 Age does not impact creativity or performance of key job tasks.10 Age is also positively correlated with proactive work behaviors, such as taking initiative.11

2. Stereotype: They won’t be able to get along with younger colleagues.

Age is significantly associated with higher levels of helpfulness to coworkers, a trait beneficial to teams and organizations.12 Age is also positively correlated with exchanges between the employee and both colleagues and supervisors, as well as establishment of trust between coworkers.13 Levels of optimism and attention to interpersonal relationships while problem-solving improve with age.14 Studies have further shown that the concept of an older worker as a difficult colleague is an unfounded stereotype.15

3. Stereotype: They’ll be sick and miss work.

Older employees are more likely to arrive at work on time than their younger colleagues.16 They do not have more day-to-day physical health problems.17 They do not have increased problems balancing work and family life.18 Indeed, older employees tend to have fewer time constraints than those who are younger.19

4. Stereotype: They’re not motivated.

The opposite is true. Older employees are more motivated in their work20 and more motivated at applying their personal strengths to their job tasks to achieve goals.21 Older people have been found to be more dependable than those who are younger.22 They tend to be more conscientious at work than their younger colleagues,23 and conscientiousness is a key predictor of job performance, encompassing traits like sense of purpose, persistence, and accomplishment of work tasks.24 In fact, conscientiousness peaks in the mid-60s age range.25

5. Stereotype: They can’t learn new skills/technology.

Research has shown that older employees are neither resistant nor unwilling to change.26 They are more motivated to take of advantage of training to learn new skills.27 In fact, age is positively related to innovative behavior.28 These older new lawyers have shown their competency and adaptive ability by mastering the necessary skills to progress through law school and pass the bar. 

You can be an important player in reducing discrimination against this talented group. Studies have shown that seemingly entrenched negative stereotypes can be changed in multiple ways. Simply becoming aware that the stereotyping exists and that it results in bias is enough to effect some change. Successfully countering the discrimination is best accomplished by integrating these older individuals into the workplace, so that others have more continuous exposure to examples of highly functioning members of this age group.

These new lawyers are often entering law as a second career, bringing with them a wealth of specialized knowledge, professional behavior, and interpersonal skills. Those who are over 50 especially are more practiced in communication skills and “reading” people. If you want to add a talented, dynamic lawyer to your team, examine whether you might have been harboring negative stereotypes of older individuals. And consider bringing one of these new older lawyers onto your team.

SUSAN E. CRAIG, M.D., is a third-year student at the University of Minnesota Law School, and is a fellow in the American Academy of Family Physicians.




2 Elissa L. Perry & Lisa M. Finkelstein, Toward a Broader View of Age Discrimination in Employment-Related Decisions: A Joint Consideration of Organizational Factors and Cognitive Processes, 9 Human Resource Management Review 21, 21 (1999).

3 Alison L. Chasteen, Norbert Schwarz, & Denise C. Park, The Activation of Aging Stereotypes in Younger and Older Adults, 57B Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences 540, 544-45, (2002).

4 Loren Falkenberg, Improving the Accuracy of Stereotypes Within the Workplace, 16 Journal of Management 107, 109-13 (1990).

5 Id.

6 David A. Waldman & Bruce J. Avolio, A Meta-Analysis of Age Differences in Job Performance, 71 Journal of Applied Psychology 33, 36 (1986).

7 Phillip A. Allen et al., Age Differences in Overlapping-Task Performance: Evidence for Efficient Parallel Processes in Older Adults, 17 Psychology and Aging 505, 513 (2002).

8 Dorien T. A. M. Kooij et al., Job Crafting Towards Strengths and Interests: The Effects of a Job Crafting Intervention on Person-Job Fit and the Role of Age, 102 Journal of Applied Psychology 971, 976 (2017).

9 Thomas W. H. Ng & Daniel C. Feldman, The Relationship of Age to Ten Dimensions of Job Performance, 93 Journal of Applied Psychology 392, 400 (2008).

10 Id.

11 Thomas W. H. Ng & Daniel C. Feldman, Evaluating Six Common Stereotypes about Older Workers with Meta-Analytical Data, 65 Personnel Psychology 821, 828, 840 (2012).

12 Ng, Relationship, supra, at 403.

13 Ng, Evaluating, supra, at 841. 

14 Benjamin P. Chapman & Bert Hayslip Jr., Emotional Intelligence in Young and Middle Adulthood: Cross-Sectional Analysis of Latent Structure and Means, 21 Psychology and Aging 411, 415 (2006).

15 Ng, Relationship, supra, at 403.

16 Id.

17 Ng, Evaluating, supra, at 841. 

18 Id.

19 Jenette Jacob Erickson et al., Putting Work and Family Experiences in Context: Differences by Family Life Stage, 63 Human Relations 955, 956 (2010).

20 Ng, Evaluating, supra, at 838. 

21 Kooij, supra, at 973. 

22 Frederick L. Oswald & Leatta M. Hough, Personality and Its Assessment in Organizations: Theoretical and Empirical Developments, in 2 Selecting and Developing Members for the Organization 153, 165 (Sheldon Zedeck ed., 2011).

23 Brent W. Roberts et al., Patterns of Mean-Level Change in Personality Traits Across the Life Course: A Meta-Analysis of Longitudinal Studies, 132 Psychological Bulletin 1, 11 (2006).

24 Murray R. Barrick & Michael K. Mount, The Big Five Personality Dimensions and Job Performance: A Meta-Analysis, 44 Personnel Psychology 1, 17 (1991).

25 Oswald, supra, at 165.

26 Ng, Evaluating, supra, at 840. 

27 Kooij, supra, at 976.

28 Ng, Evaluating, supra, at 842. 

Leave a Reply

Articles by Issue

Articles by Subject