Associates in the Trenches
For Associates Striving for Respect, Looking Young Can Be a Mixed Blessing
Posted Dec 29, 2005 5:59 AM CDT
By Stephanie Francis Ward
Samuel E. Rogoway has always looked younger than his 26 years. But that doesn’t seem to be a problem in Hollywood.
The Los Angeles-area associate, who handles entertainment matters, says he often gets mistaken for someone college-age or younger. “And I’ve had no touch-up work done,” he adds with a laugh.
Unlike other baby-faced associates, Rogoway says that he hasn’t experienced any age discrimination, per se, but people are sometimes surprised when he announces his profession.
“It takes them a little off guard, and they say I’m so young. But I think it shows that I’m hungry and motivated, and they appreciate it,” Rogoway says. “If anything, it sets me apart a bit.”
It also doesn’t hurt that the entertainment business places a high value on youth, he adds, and he regularly sees lawyers who are much older trying to look younger. “And I think that’s great,” Rogoway says. “The cool thing about working in L.A. is that you can go to a lunch and have a little-bit-older attorney dressing like he’s 23 or 24.”
When he does get comments about his age, Rogoway says, he sees it as a challenge. “It just gives you more of an incentive to show people that you are capable,” says the associate, who usually represents talent in contract disputes.
Another benefit is that people sometimes expect less out of him. “It’s easier to move beyond expectations if you look a little younger,” he says. “At first people may be a little concerned with your age. Then you give them a product they really appreciate, and they’re taken aback by it.”
Yet Rogoway isn’t sure his youthful looks would be so well-received in more button-down practice areas. Indeed, an associate who handles banking regulatory work in Washington, D.C., says it’s not uncommon for staff to ask her which lawyer is signing off on the work she has given them.
“I say, ‘It’s me, actually,’ ” says this associate, who asked that her name not be used. “It was frustrating in my previous law firm, where I was doing litigation, because a lot of the staff would assume I was a paralegal, and I didn’t get respect doing a filing.” She’s 27, but the associate says people often mistake her for someone in her early 20s.
Even if she does not quite look her age, this lawyer says it helps to act it. “I think you have to be a little more careful not to be too casual,” she says. She also avoids using the word “like” repeatedly, a habit often associated with the speech patterns of younger people.
Dress To Progress
What associates wear can also make a big difference in how people perceive their age, says Sharon Abrahams, director of professional development at Chicago-headquartered McDermott Will & Emery. She advises young associates to go to a courthouse, observe what more senior lawyers are wearing and dress accordingly.
“You always want to dress for the job you want next,” she says. “If you wear a sweater set and a pair of slacks to work, you’re more likely to be mistaken for something other than a lawyer.
“The same goes for men who wear a pair of khakis and a polo shirt,” Abrahams adds. If youthful-looking associates have hesitation about what to wear, how to wear their hair or whether to grow a beard, she advises that they look to partners for direction. “Sometimes male associates who look young will try to grow facial hair, and that’s not all that common in law firms,” she says.
Kim L. Nguyen of Encino, Calif., counters age-related comments with a gracious response.
“Once in a while, clients remark that I look really young to be an attorney, and I say, ‘Thank you very much,’ ” the 29-year-old appellate associate says. “I think I look about 23 or 24, but maybe I’m being too ambitious,” she adds. “As I get older, it’s definitely something I welcome.”