Are Older Students Young Lawyers?

My friend was distressed after hearing a prominent judge say, "I like law clerks because I like to work with young people.” That same week my professor explained, "If you're a young lawyer, you take less risk." An email read, (The Justice) “will speak about skills that we should work on developing as young lawyers.” And the public defender told his audience, “Young lawyers are the strength of the PD's office.”

Every time I hear young lawyers, I wonder to whom it refers. You must be under 36 (or admitted to practice for five years or less) to be among 150,000 members of the ABA’s Young Lawyer Division, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary. This five-year provision, allows those of us neither under age 36 nor young by student standards, to join the Young Lawyer Division. We OWLS (self-selected Older, Wiser, Law Students) can be young lawyers.

Almost 20 percent of law-school applicants in 2006 were over age 30, and 5% were 40 or older.Nearly one-in-five black applicants were over age 40 and 29% of both black and American Indian applicants were age 30 or older. Although older students represent a minority of total law students, the Princeton Review deemed their presence significant enough to rank the law schools most chosen by older students. It ranked schools based on the average age of entry of law school students, and student reports of how many years they spent out of college before enrolling in law school.

How many older students believe that the term young does not refer to them? Do the professors, judges, and other lawyers intend to exclude older students in their references to young lawyers? Are they looking for youth, or is young just an old term for recently begun? Professors teach that lawyers must avoid ambiguity and use language with precision to avoid unnecessary litigation. Young is commonly used to mean not very old, but can also mean, recently begun. The legal community should avoid this ambiguity and clarify the meaning of young lawyers as either not-very-old lawyers or novice lawyers.

In the meantime, you may find a critical mass of OWLs - and therefore greater awareness of this issue - on these campuses:

1.    City University of New York, Queens College, CUNY School of Law

2.     University of Hawaii at Manoa, William S. Richardson School of Law, Honolulu, HI

3.     University of Maine School of Law

4.     Seattle University School of Law

5.     University of the District of Columbia, David A. Clarke School of Law

6.     University of New Mexico School of Law, Albuquerque, NM

7.     Lewis & Clark College, Northwestern School of Law, Portland, OR

8.     Georgia State University College of Law, Atlanta, GA

9.     University of Arizona, James E. Rogers College of Law

10.   William Mitchell College of Law


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