When networking or meeting with a potential client, I am often asked: “Why should I hire you?” Most people think that more experience is always better and, at first blush, that makes sense. After all, if I were having surgery, I’d certainly want to go under the knife with a credentialed surgeon instead of a novice intern. However, when it comes to the practice of law, especially family law, there can be a great benefit to using a neophyte attorney with a few years of experience under his or her belt. Here’s why:
- We think outside the box. “Maverick” is a synonym of “newcomer.” And do you know what a maverick is? One who takes chances and departs from the accepted course. Some veteran attorneys regale you with their war stories or boast an “I’ve seen it all” attitude. This experience is really valuable, but remember that years of experience does not always mean expertise. The wrong kind of lawyer may be limited to his or her own ideas about what “kind of case” you have or how it will resolve in the end. Lawyers who are eager to get creative, come up with unique problem solutions and are not limited by their predictions and assumptions are invaluable. There’s also nothing more satisfying than being underestimated by your more experienced, condescending adversary, only to come up with better strategies.
- Our contacts are just as important (if not more important) than our mentors’. The big-wigs rub elbows with judges and other esteemed lawyers. They have visible positions on boards and bar associations and their walls are lined with accolades. Younger attorneys have equally valuable contacts, especially in the courthouse, where it really counts. Many newer attorneys are recent law clerks and have firsthand knowledge of the way judges in their county think and rule. They are familiar with the secretaries, court staff, and other administrators and know just who to call to answer a question or streamline a process. For several years after law school, our classmates are clerks in the courthouse and act as a valuable resource in practice. Sometimes it pays more to know the bouncer than the headliner.
- We are cost-effective. This one’s obvious, but critical. Lawyers (especially in family law) are routinely paid by the hour for their services. With more experience, comes higher hourly rates. If managing costs is a big concern, selecting an attorney with three years versus twenty years of experience can make a huge difference to your bottom line. If you expect your case to be relatively straightforward, selecting an attorney with a lower hourly rate may be your best cost-saving strategy.
- We are savvy information-seekers. I wanted to write this entire post without using the “m” word, but let’s face it, millennials are really good at technology. A smart millennial knows when to ask for help but also knows where to look. If you suspect your ex of cohabiting and you want to modify your alimony obligation, the conventional first step would be to hire a private investigator. A social media-savvy attorney may get the same answer with a targeted social media search (assuming you ex has lax privacy settings, of course). And when it comes to seeking answers, a good attorney, young or old, knows when to ask for help. A wise, budding attorney will have a mentor who acts as a sounding board. Even the most experienced attorneys sometimes need a second opinion, too.
- We hear you. Family law is emotionally taxing. Whether you’re negotiating a prenup, arguing over custody, navigating a divorce, or fighting with your ex after the fact, all of these issues can be draining, especially if they are high-conflict. The attorney with many years of practice invariably becomes immune to the emotional rollercoaster. I’d dare say it’s a necessity to keep up with the practice. And you need a lawyer who can take the emotions out and give you objective counsel about your legal rights. A younger lawyer is trained to do just that, but can also empathize with your situation. Some days you really need to be “heard”. All great lawyers, old and young, have mastered this skill. A newer attorney, who probably has less clients than the decorated expert, likely has more time and emotional bandwidth to do so.
Depending on your situation, it may be logical to go straight to the top. Maybe you have a very complicated case with a lot of moving parts. Maybe your case has a long history and you need some reputational muscle to bring out the big guns and bring your matter to a close. In these cases, this is strategically your best choice. However, I invite you to reconsider your assumption that older is always wiser. For the right type of case, the newer kid on the block just might be your greatest asset.
Katherine A. Nunziata is an associate in the firm’s Family Law practice, based in the Morristown, NJ office. You can reach Katherine at (973-548-3324) or at firstname.lastname@example.org.