It’s been about 24 years since I started working as a lawyer. My first job was with a mid-sized firm and they provided me with a lot of training. I had a mentor, a supervisor and was just a shadow for my first couple of months. They brought me along very slowly. I wasn’t in a position to give clients legal advice until I had been there for almost six months.
I remember having classmates who had a completely opposite experience. We were sworn in to practice law on November 6 which was a Thursday and some of my friends were in court handling actual cases on Friday. They were with smaller firms who when we interviewed told us that they wanted us to get real world experience right away and be “thrown in to the fire.”
At the time it seemed exciting and I was a little bit jealous. I was looking at solely from the standpoint of what I wanted to do or my classmates wanted to do. Being young and inexperienced, I wasn’t thinking about who mattered most; the client.
Is it possible a young lawyer can do a good job on a case? Sure it’s possible. Maybe they are so eager that they go way overboard and give you the best representation possible. More likely though is that they don’t know what they don’t know and that is going to harm you.
There is one Chicago workers’ compensation firm that is notorious for hiring newer attorneys and just throwing them in to the fire. I get a lot of calls from their clients when their attorney can’t answer questions or doesn’t seem to know what they are talking about. In one case they failed to advise a fired worker about the time limits for bringing a case before the EEOC and didn’t refer them to a proper lawyer. In another instead of explaining how a settlement would work, they just asked the client what they wanted. I’ve seen dozens of cases where they’ve screwed up badly or left a lot of money on the table.
For the young attorneys they do get experience, but they make mistakes while practicing on your real life situation. You aren’t paying a lower attorney fee in most cases, so there’s no reason to get representation that isn’t what it should be.
Often these firms will tell you that the lawyer is working under the supervision of a more seasoned person. But if that’s true then why can’t you just have the experienced lawyer and why do they never seem to be available to you?
The bottom line is that I’d be very wary of hiring a lawyer who hasn’t been in practice for at least three years. We usually don’t recommend anyone with less than five years experience and most attorneys we suggest have been in practice for more than ten years. Attorneys never stop learning and won’t ever know everything, but you want the learning curve to be as small as possible. It’s your case and your life. Insisting on an attorney with a proven track record is the safest way to go.