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Lady Justice: Reductionism and raw meat


As much as I am not in favour of biological sex being held a relevant characteristic, as a general rule, by which humans judge or limit their own or others’ potential, I am also not in favour of age being a key factor.

This includes in determining workforce participation, especially when technological and other advances allow us to discriminate on the basis of competence. Given the current ratio of retiring workers to replacement workers as baby boomers age out, fewer children being born, greater longevity, and the financial needs of Canadians – there is a need for competent workers of any age.

One of my first jobs as a petite fifteen-year-old was in fast food. The duties included grilling hamburgers. The frozen patty had to be pressed down with a tool to allow it to quickly sear on the grill to ensure it would cook thoroughly in the allotted time. Although I was employee of the month in my first month, when I was assigned grill, customers brought back the half-cooked (potentially poisonous) burgers.

I was incompetent for operating the grill as designed, at least for the burgers way at the back where I could not apply the proper pressure. If I had designed the grill with me in mind, since I can avoid serving raw hamburgers everywhere else in my life, I could have evened the playing field and ensured it would be one where I could be competent. The solution at that time was to simply keep me off the grill at rush hour.

On the other hand, at the fast-food counter, where communications, empathy, speed and organization counted, I was usually unbeatable if competence was judged by factors such as sales and accuracy.

Luckily, minimum wage fast-food entry-level service was not that competitive a job to fill so my age and sex were not a factor. Compared to my work history in babysitting, I tripled my income, I was rich at $2.85 per hour! Promotions went more often from guys to guys in those days but I was just waiting to be old enough to do something else so not a personal concern, just an annoying observation.

At the workforce entry level, minimum ages make sense, and may depend on the wealth of your country. Education and child safety and well being are among the important factors to consider.

Just as I started working as soon as I could, I have no plan to retire as long as I am competent and desire or need to work. I am fortunate, so far, to have entered a profession (law) with an employer (myself) which allows me that privilege. Judges, who have to be lawyers first to qualify for appointment in Canada, have to retire at 75 (some at 70), but at least they have pensions and are once again free to be lawyers.

I seem to recollect that our governing body, the Law Society of Alberta, used to give lawyers a 50-year pin, now reduced to a spam email with a congratulatory announcement to the Bar.

Law firms, on the other hand, especially larger ones, will have partnership agreements with a retirement age of perhaps 60 (they can’t force you out, but they can agree to not let you into the partnership unless you agree, if there is a difference). Incredible sacrifices to be super productive and then put out to pasture before any decline in performance is the best way to serve the law firm machine. Personally, no thank you.

Clearly age is a thing. Arguably, since you have had a chance to be a younger you and work, you have been treated equal to other humans. Nonetheless, age is just a number, and as long as you are serving humanity competently, it seems to me humanity needs all the raw talent (but not raw burgers) as well as wise experience working for it.

Donna Purcell, K.C., (aka Lady Justice) is a Central Alberta lawyer and Chief Innovation Officer with Donna Purcell QC Law. If you have legal questions, contact