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Lawyering while young

Jessica Markham

Jessica Markham

When I took my first real lawyer job in 2005, a few days and a mild hangover fresh from the bar exam, I was the ripe old age of 24. Since that time, I have been practicing family law, and I can tell you that in the beginning there were a lot of “fake it til you make it” moments, as I was tasked with giving legal, and often life advice to people more than twice my age, and many times my net worth.

I recall being young and thinking that most of the people in the room probably knew more than I did. At some point that scale started to tip in my favor, as more and more often I was no longer the greenest person in the room. But I do recall, and it happens much less now, the many constant comments about my relative youth when compared to many of my peers.  Even now, many of my peers have been practicing 20, 30 or 40 years, as compared to my 13.  It’s easy to let yourself get psyched out, if you let it.

If you’re an attorney on the younger side, I would say use age to your advantage. Don’t let it hold you back. Because lists are fun, here’s one I came up with to keep you from letting yourself get psyched out when going up against more experienced or older counsel:

  • Be proud of being successful young. You’re sitting at the same table as the other guy/gal. You deserve to be there.
  • You probably know a lot more about computers, smarts phones and technology, and let’s face it, you can probably type out notes faster than your counterpart. Leverage these practical skills to help you in your legal practice.
  • You’re not stuck in the old ways of doing things, because maybe you don’t know the old ways. Come up with new and better ways of doing things like organizing and producing discovery, or searching for information you need for your case.
  • Let them underestimate you. It may be to their folly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been underestimated due to my age. I have always tried to out-prepare to make up for any lack of experience.
  • Let your desire to prove yourself drive you. As a young attorney, you’re trying to make a name for yourself as doing good work, being professional, collegial. Do the best work you can, since, in a way, it matters more to you than to someone who has already made their “name.”
  • If someone makes a big deal about how young you are, it’s their issue not yours. Maybe it’s insecurity, or out of a desire to rattle you.  Ignore it.

I will leave you with a funny story of a time that being young worked to my advantage. One day I was in my office lobby, sitting in reception and reading The Daily Record. A local business person came in off the street to try to meet me, to see if I would refer him business, and requested a face-to-face meeting. He spoke to the receptionist about it, with his back to me, as I sat there in my torn jeans and T-shirt. He perhaps didn’t figure me as the owner of a law firm (ironically as my name was plastered on the backsplash in front of him). He even looked at me as he spoke, I gave him a smile, and went back to reading my newspaper as he was told, “Unfortunately Ms. Markham is unavailable.”  So, it’s not all bad.

Jessica Markham is the owner of Markham Law Firm, a family law firm in Bethesda.

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