Business development in the legal profession is about one word: TRUST. Potential clients believe that when looking for representation, a lawyer can never have too much experience. Lately I have run into this misconception head-on, and I find it very troubling. The most challenging task for me as a young lawyer is to gain the trust of potential clients with their legal pursuits. While I cannot undervalue the benefits of hiring an experienced professional for very large, specialized, or overly-complex legal issues that take decades to master, I would like the reader to consider some less obvious advantages of hiring a younger lawyer to fulfill your day-to-day legal needs.
While hiring a young lawyer to represent you may have its disadvantages, you should consider these five attributes of a young lawyer before making a decision about who you want to represent you or your business.
1. Cost. Obviously, a young lawyer will not bill you at the rate he would with twenty years of experience. As well, a young lawyer is less likely to have minimums–such as billing you 1/4 hour for a 3-minute phone conversation. Recently, I have had opposing counsel whose rate is nearly twice the rate I bill my clients–and with no greater outcome than I achieved for my client. Just like finding a great $10 bottle of wine, you don’t always get what you pay for; don’t always assume that you are getting a better lawyer because you are paying more. In an economy where demand approaches marginal cost, shrinking profit margins require consumers and small business owners alike to look over their business and personal budgets, line by line. Cutting legal costs can significantly reduce overhead and make your product more competitive in a time when you need it most.
2. Communication. A young lawyer has the time to devote to you or your business–the personalized, one-on-one attention that you deserve. A more seasoned lawyer is often overwhelmed with a portfolio of clients he or she has built over his/her career. Often times, what suffers is client communication. Have you ever had a lawyer who could take up to two weeks to return your phone call or email? While there are always exceptions, hiring a younger lawyer usually reduces response time. At this point in my career, I am generally able to return communications within 24 hours; in my experience contacting other lawyers, 24 hours is the absolute earliest you could expect to hear back. For most clients, this makes the difference between a lawyer they hire once, or a lawyer who they retain for their legal needs over the course of a lifetime.
3. Availability. As mentioned above, a younger lawyer generally has fewer clients. For you, this means that he or she can dedicate more time to solving your legal problem, and has fewer distractions from other clients. A good example comes from criminal law. A successful, seasoned criminal defense lawyer often has his or her own entire court call–an entire morning or afternoon spread over a vast list of his or her criminal defendants. As well, in his or her plea meeting with the prosecutor, he or she is not discussing individual plea agreements–he or she is more likely discussing them by the batch. Because of this, it is more challenging to remember the details of each and every case, and is less likely to treat each case with the devoted attention it should receive.
4. Aggressiveness. A young lawyer is looking to make a name for him/herself. He or she is not connected to the existing “good ‘ol boys” network, and many older lawyers often have animosity toward new members of their profession. While all lawyers should be professional, amicable, and civil at all times, a young lawyer is less likely to compromise because of an existing relationship with the other side. A younger lawyer is generally more connected to each cause he or she advocates, because he or she has not been desensitized by the high volume of cases of a seasoned lawyer. Because of this, a younger lawyer is more likely to zealously advocate on your behalf.
5. Innovation. A young lawyer will often surprise you with his or her expertise and the creative ability to find new solutions to old problems. As well, he or she is closer to his or her legal education. This allows young lawyers to “think outside the box” and draw upon a greater legal imagination when looking to support your position. For example, recently I represented a homeowner defending against a claim by his home improvement contractor. While most of general contract law provides a recovery when there was no written contract between the parties, the Indiana Legislature passed a statute in 2005 placing the burden on contractors to produce such a writing in order to recover, even where the work has been performed. Because I came across this recently in my pursuit of the Bar Exam, I was vaguely familiar with the statute, and began here in solving my client’s problem. Of course this does not guarantee any particular outcome, but my client would not have had a single argument to rely upon had I not had the intuition in my recent memory. Hiring a fresh set of eyes may result in new and innovative arguments that in some cases could lead to a more favorable outcome.
All this being said, just like shopping for a bottle of wine, each winery and vintage has its own distinct qualities and value. Just because a wine is younger, older, more expensive, less expensive, or from a particular region, does not necessarily predict your satisfaction when the final glass is poured from the bottle. Each lawyer has his or her distinct personality and style, and each has his or her strengths and weaknesses. I do not intend here to undermine the value of hiring an experienced lawyer; experience should be a significant factor in shopping for legal representation. But–it should not be the determining factor alone. I encourage potential clients to make a well-informed decision when hiring a lawyer–and to evaluate each candidate on his or her individual merit.