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One way young lawyers can gain experience

adpI recently read an interesting New York Times article about two federal judges in New York who are taking steps at helping young lawyers get more time speaking in court.

In the first article, retired federal Judge Shira Scheindlin noted how many times older male attorneys turned to young female attorneys to obtain answers to questions from the bench. (Yeah, we know the answers!) I have personally had this experience, as I am sure many of you have. Scheindlin’s point was that maybe the younger female attorney should be arguing the motion. (Amen!)

Judge Jack B. Weinstein had lunch with Scheindlin a few weeks later and asked how he could help. He created a rule that encourages younger attorneys to have a larger role in the courtroom. The rule states:

Junior members of legal teams representing clients are invited to argue motions they have helped prepare and to question witnesses with whom they have worked. Opportunities to train young attorneys in oral advocacy are rare because of the decline of trials. Where junior lawyers are familiar with the matter under consideration, but have little experience arguing before a court, they should be encouraged to speak by the presiding judge and the law firms involved in the case. This court is amenable to permitting a number of lawyers to argue for one party if this creates an opportunity for a junior lawyer to participate. The ultimate decision of who speaks on behalf of the client is for the lawyer in charge of the case, not for the court.

While these articles are focused on female attorneys, which I can obviously sympathize with, this is an issue for ALL young attorneys. I was so impressed by these ideas that I wrote to Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera on the topic. My key point was that we, as a bar, need to have a discussion about getting young lawyers speaking time in court.

For many lawyers in bigger firms, the large clients want the “experienced guy” in front of the judge. The younger lawyer gets to be second or third chair, despite the fact that we may be better suited to actually make the argument. The clients forget that us “youngins” are the ones doing the leg work and we really do know the case inside and out as well as, if not better than, our more experienced colleagues.

I am admittedly fortunate that the lawyer I work with most on our large, complex cases is open to having discussions about me taking the lead on certain issues. In fact, he is the one who drew my attention to the Times’ articles. However, I still struggle to get opportunities to speak in court in these larger cases. Clients are generally afraid of the younger generation of lawyers because we have not been practicing for 30 years. So Weinstein’s rule is a happy medium.

I propose that, as a bar, we discuss this. We ask the judges and the “experienced” lawyers think. Maybe what results is a path to better next-generation lawyers.

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