Where are the new trial lawyers coming from?

I was lucky.

I began my career at a time when there were still a fair number of cases going to trial. I also began my career at a time when clients believed that not every case required an attorney with twenty years of trial experience to handle all aspects of the matter. Accordingly, I was lucky enough to take a substantial number of cases to trial.

Things are different now.

We are looking at a time when fewer and fewer cases end up going to trial. Therefore, there are fewer opportunities for young lawyers to get the trial experience they need to call themselves “trial” lawyers. Additionally, clients increasingly demand that their cases be handled exclusively by the most experienced “trial” lawyers, even to the point of requiring the senior lawyers to attend all depositions and court hearings. Thus, the chance for a young lawyer to get into a trial setting further diminishes.

The result is that we now have a generation of “litigation” lawyers instead of “trial” lawyers. I practice in a relatively small firm which for the most part is comprised of very experienced lawyers, so we naturally accomodate the demands of clients who want experienced lawyers on their cases. However, we also make it a point to get younger attorneys sitting in as second chairs in our trials so they can become comfortable with the trial setting. I am concerned though about the way which other young lawyers elsewhere will get the experience they need to one day receive those case assignments from clients.

Twenty years from now, will there be a pool of “trial” lawyers who are ready to handle client cases from beginning to end? I don’t know the answer.

I see large law firms with fleets of young, and not so young, lawyers who rarely see the inside of a courtroom, much less a trial. Nevertheless, they are called “trial” lawyers on their law firm websites. The publications and organizations which deal almost exclusively with the large, AmLaw 100 type law firms, praise the results of “trial” lawyers who get to trial once every five years or so.

I started my career before the old days when lawyers tried 30 cases a year. I felt good, however, when I was assigned out to trial 14 times in one year. Unfortunately, all but two of those cases settled for ridiculously low amounts (or amounts which we had offered months before trial) or they were voluntarily dismissed.

The number of trial assignments has decreased in recent years, as it has for all of us. Still, I think I’ve earned the right to call myself a “trial” lawyer. Unfortunately, we need to wonder how young lawyers will earn that right in the future.


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