A post on today’s ABAJournal.com concerns a claim of age discrimination by a laid-off legal secretary. Given her pay scale I suspect she was performing paralegal tasks as well as or instead of legal secretary tasks, but in any case I suspect her complaint would be echoed by many older paralegals seeking work. It is strange that a profession charged, at least in part, with protecting clients from age discrimination engages in it itself. I am not aware of any large scale studies of the phenomenon as it relates to the paralegal profession. Of course, as discussed elsewhere in this blog, it would be difficult to do such a study as it would require determining who actually meets the non-existent standards of education, experience, and/or training that entitles one to be called a paralegal in the United States.
I do know that lawyers, especially partners forced out of partnerships, complain about age bias in the legal profession. I suspect I’ve experienced some of it myself when switching careers from full-time practicing attorney to professor of legal studies. (During one interview process I was pointedly told they were looking for someone who could commit to 15 years at the institution, implying that at my age I did not have the capacity to put in another 15 years!)
One problem with determining the extend of discrimination is the wide range of alternative explanations. Let’s take a look first at the legal secretary’s story as excerpted from the ABAJournal.com story:
A legal secretary who lost her job with Cozen O’Connor in 2009 is still looking for full-time work, despite 60 interviews in the legal field.
Terri Doring is 57 years old and she thinks her difficulties are partly due to her age, the Washington Times reports. “I have an excellent career record. It all comes down to age discrimination,” she told the newspaper. She said she wishes she lived in “a new country where expertise is valued.” …
Doring was paid $55,000 a year before she was laid off, and she suspects the salary causes employers to seek younger workers who are willing to accept less. Doring tells the newspaper that she is willing to take a salary cut, but she draws the line at working for a verbally abusive lawyer. (She walked away from the single legal secretary job she found because of the lawyer’s personality.)
Doring laments that employers nowadays value word-processing skills and speed instead of people skills. “Personal assistance is passé,” she says.
One of the comments to the post says, “Ah. Failing typing speed test = age discrimination. Good to know” an obviously sarcastic response indicating the commenter thinks its not Doring’s age but her inability to maintain the necessary skills for the job that is preventing her from getting work.
None of us are likely to know the facts of Doring’s case to comment directly on it, but I am interested in your experiences and opinions on the topic in general.