We talk a lot about experience being one of the most important factors in choosing the right lawyer for your case. We stand by this advice but suggest that you don’t take it to the extreme. More experience is usually a good thing, but there is a tipping point – a point at which an attorney might actually have too much experience.
I was thinking about this recently after a woman called me and told me she was hiring a 74-year-old lawyer for her case because he had “seen and done it all.” The lawyer was 90 minutes away from where they needed to be for court. The only reason she was hiring him was because of his many years of experience.
I cautioned her that it might not be a good idea. Focusing only on the number of years a lawyer has been practicing is not a good way to pick one. It’s shortsighted. Experience is certainly important, but only if it’s relevant and up-to-date.
The experience should be related to your legal issue. Does the attorney’s experience include practice in the area of law your case involves? Has the attorney handled a significant number of similar cases? Was this experience recent (and not 20 years ago when the law was different)? Is the attorney’s experience local, meaning that he or she is familiar with the other attorneys and the judges at the courthouse where your case is being heard? Does your attorney have a good reputation there?
Another thing to consider, if you’re hiring an attorney with decades of experience, is whether they are still on top of their game. Burnout is common in the legal profession. An attorney needs to maintain a certain level of ambition and passion in order to fully represent the best interests of their clients. I think it’s safe to say to say that an attorney with 15 years of experience is going to be more aggressive than someone with 40 years of experience.
I know of older attorneys who stay in the profession on a limited basis. They’re pretty much retired, but they still handle some cases here and there. I wouldn’t recommend them. You want someone who’s still fully engaged in their career. You want someone who talks to other attorneys every day, someone who continues to do research and learn about changes in the law, and someone who still is fully committed to their work. Not someone who has one foot out the door.