Note: While many readers aren’t particularly interested in the problems facing new lawyers, I am, as I believe their problems to be integral to problems facing the profession as a whole. For those unaware, a great many law students and new lawyers read Paul Campos’ Inside the Law School Scam and Above the Law . They don’t read SJ, and many who do find it less than hospitable or sympathetic.
Much as I may be critical of those perceived to be the “enemies” of young lawyers, I’m similarly critical of the young lawyers as well. They can’t handle criticism, and have no use for introspection. Yet, they matter, and so I persist even though many of you ask me to stop writing about the profession and write only about the practice of criminal defense or the evils of its hated enemies. Tough nuggies. I write about what I want. Get over it.
Campos posts a letter received by a new lawyer who, apparently, has decided that the best place to cut his teeth is criminal defense. What a shock. This should strike fear in the hearts of many here:
Your comment about the 25-year-old nervous defense lawyer really struck home for me.
I wanted to suggest that you write a post about the result of the flood of new lawyers, especially in urban areas like New York City, with huge debt and growing desperation. I will admit that eight months ago, when I showed up to my first court date with my first client, I almost crapped myself. No amount of Mock Trial, Moot Court, public speaking, or internship shadowing can prepare a new lawyer for showing up to a simple court date without knowing a damn thing about what to do. I read an entire practice guide, just to show up and turn in a basic omnibus motion. When the judge asked me questions, I just nodded my head.
The judge and prosecutor knew that I was green. They both had a similar expression on their face: something between annoyance and pity.
What unmet need was filled here? Nowhere is it mentioned that this young lawyer stood beside a person who thought he had a lawyer defending him. Heh. Silly person. To his credit, the writer at least recognized that he was clueless. To his discredit, he “just nodded [his] head.” One can only wonder what rights he waived.
In response to the post about Judge Kane’s fix, a commenter asked, and pursued with vigor, the only question that seems to matter to young lawyers: What can you do for me? The thrust was to find an “answer” to the problem of young lawyers who are nowhere near client-safe but need to do something with their diploma. The problem is that there are two flaws in the question.
The first flaw is that there is “an answer.” There are a thousand answers, none of which will necessary work for any individual and none of which will work for all. The notion of an answer, whether magic bullet that will make all their nightmares disappear, or even a long-term, hard-fought solution that will guarantee the future they so desperately desire, is misguided.
Even when times weren’t nearly as tough as they are now, there was no answer. Every law school graduate made choices, found the path he or she thought was right, and gave it a go. Some succeeded. Some didn’t. The idea that there was a time when every law school graduate achieved comfort and respectability is nonsense. The dead bodies of unsuccessful and miserable law school graduates have always littered the road. There are just more of them today.
The second flaw is that there should be an “answer” that addresses the needs of young lawyers, disconnected from the rest of the legal profession. The legal profession does not exist to provide law school graduates with something to do during the dan and enough money to pay off their loans and get a happy hour beer. It exists to serve clients. No matter how desperate young lawyers may be about their circumstances, their plight always remains secondary to the needs of clients.
A comment to Campos’ article also strikes a curious note:
I do not understand the vitriolic response to a solo practice. People in this forum make it seem like being a solo is deplorable. I started a solo practice about a year and a half ago after I was sick and tired of doing document review. I went to a T-30 law school. My first year of practice was grueling and I made a lot of mistakes. Lucky I did not try any major felonies until I got a lot more experience. However, I learned.
Well, it’s not like he tried any major felonies until he had a clue, right? But in fairness, he offers this astute clarification:
Judges could tell I was brand new and helped me along. My first few clients understood I was new and they were taking a chance on me.
There is a place for clients to take risks with their lives by entrusting them to rookies, provided they understand the risks they are taking. Mind you, the kindness of judges isn’t exactly a substitute for the competency of counsel, and while clients may understand that a lawyer is new, they may not appreciate the implications of that fact. After all, new lawyers pass the bar exam, and are thus declared competent by the state, right? Right?!?
But then, the commenter goes and blows it with this assertion:
Young Solos need the experience so they will get it at the expense of their client, but how is that any different from a first year associate getting their experience at the expense of a large corporate client’s war chess.
The inability to understand the distinction, that the experience of a young solo is nothing at all like the experience of a first year associate in a big firm, is disconcerting enough. The assertion that a baby lawyer’s need for experience properly comes at the expense of a client, however, is the stuff of nightmares.
How to become client-safe is a damn good question, for which there is no simple answer. I am a strong believer in mentoring, where young lawyers develop close relationships with more experienced lawyers to help guide and mold them so that they are not a walking, talking, head-nodding fiasco. But even that won’t work for everybody. There is no sure-fire answer.
But that never means that it’s acceptable that a young lawyer’s desire for experience comes at the expense of clients. Nothing about what we do comes at the expense of clients, or there is no reason for lawyers to exist at all. Does that mean you waste your money on law school tuition? If you don’t care to be client-safe, then it does.