Phooey On Dinobabies – Above the LawAbove the Law

Pterosaur scene 3D illustrationEver heard the term “dinobabies”? I am not making this term up. You are not alone in your ignorance. I had never heard the term until I read an article in the New York Times about an age discrimination case against IBM. In a raft of previously sealed documents now made public, company executives disparaged older employee as “dinobabies.” (Need for an emoji of a dinosaur in a diaper?) I don’t know if the “babies” part of the term meant that the older workers were “crybabies.” An example of infantilizing older workers?

I have some questions. Didn’t anyone ever tell anyone at IBM (or other companies for that matter) that email are discoverable and often provide the smoking gun, the ammunition to resolve a case to prevent reputational risk and save some bucks? I guess not, or they didn’t attend any training because they didn’t think that they needed it. With so much training now online and compliance officers tracking everyone down to make sure employees at whatever level take the compliance training for their area, they can hardly plead ignorance, or wait, maybe they should.

Cringeworthy emails include two examples that the Times article mentioned:

“Another email by a top executive, appearing to refer to older workers, mentions a plan to ‘accelerate change by inviting the “dinobabies” (new species) to leave’ and make them an ‘extinct species.’ ” If you are wondering where the term came from, now you know.

Another one is especially offensive to older women workers, which “refers to IBM’s ‘dated maternal workforce,’ an apparent allusion to older women, and says: ‘This is what must change. They really don’t understand social or engagement. Not digital natives. A real threat for us.’ ” Cringeworthy, but no surprise, even in the second decade of the 21st century.

These emails are not circumstantial evidence of wanting to cull older workers from the workforce; these are direct evidence, and as we all learned in law school, while circumstantial evidence certainly is a fine way to prove facts, direct evidence is like winning the Super Bowl of evidence. (Yay, Rams!)

A recent email from a 2L reinforces the notion of ageism in our profession. Attending law school after another career, he commented “finding work, whether for summers or during the school year, has been a major challenge and I’ve been shocked (call me naïve) at the degree of ageism, both covert and overt, I’ve experienced in the process.” The ageism hasn’t come from his classmates or faculty, but from prospective employers. No surprise there.

All of us older workers understand (at least the ones with any cognition) that adding younger workers (aka “early professionals”) is essential to the continuation and growth of any and every business. Surely there must be more diplomatic ways of transitioning older workers in ways that allow them to retain their dignity and even their jobs, in preretirement mode, so that companies like IBM aren’t caught with their smelly dinobaby diapers down. And continuous training and reminders on the discoverability of emails wouldn’t hurt.

However, companies today don’t make retirement attractive. Dependent on 401(k)s and thus the whims of the stock market, many older workers continue to work not because they want to, but because they must. Given the demise of defined benefit pension plans, what choices do they have except to continue working when they would prefer not to? Unless peeps have saved like squirrels do for winter, is it time to look again at defined benefit plans in some fashion 50 or so years after they went the way of VCRs?

Do law firms and corporate legal departments have “dinobabies”? What are they doing about them? How are they preparing for the next generation and the next after that? But it’s not just the Biglaw firms and corporate departments, what are solos doing? What are the small firms doing? So many details and everyone focuses on the here and now, rather than the hereafter. Aren’t there ways to collaborate on how best to transition, other than rudely showing “dinobabies” the door? Please don’t shove us out, we can walk out on our own, thank you very much.

To be fair, ageism is not just a matter of older lawyers being affected; although there’s no age protection for those under 40, age discrimination is just as real for those peeps as well. Comments like “you don’t look old enough to be a lawyer who’s been practicing for X years,” “you don’t have enough experience to argue this motion, handle this trial” [to which I ask, how does one get experience otherwise?]. Bullying and intimidating newer lawyers happens far too often. Why not combine hard-won wisdom of the “dinobabies” with the “early professionals,” who are chomping at the bit to show what they can do? Infantilizing runs both ways.

Sometimes you know when it’s time to go, when you have accomplished professionally all that you wanted to do (Tom Brady?); other times, it’s illness, weariness, boredom, or just the desire not to spend the rest of your days managing idiotic discovery requests, repetitive motions to compel, and smoking gun emails. Just because we’re old doesn’t mean we cannot still contribute. Conversely, just because someone is young doesn’t mean that they can’t either.

If, as predicted, robots take over many of the drudgery tasks that lawyers still do, you won’t have to worry about robots aging out (unless there’s a shortage of usable chips, which given current supply chain issues could be a real fact of AI life.) But you will still have to worry whether to use cloth or disposable “dinobaby” diapers.

old lady lawyer elderly woman grandmother grandma laptop computerJill Switzer has been an active member of the State Bar of California for over 40 years. She remembers practicing law in a kinder, gentler time. She’s had a diverse legal career, including stints as a deputy district attorney, a solo practice, and several senior in-house gigs. She now mediates full-time, which gives her the opportunity to see dinosaurs, millennials, and those in-between interact — it’s not always civil. You can reach her by email at

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