Equal opportunity? Making a case for young lawyers

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

Before I get to the point of this post, I must admit to something.

I come from a long line of lawyers — sort of. My grandfather was an attorney. One of his sons (my uncle) had a law degree, and my father — who studied international law at the Sorbonne — might have also gone into the “family business” if he hadn’t been forced to flee from his country (a former Communist regime) as a political refugee.

And now I’m a paralegal — although technically I am not working as one in the conventional sense.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

Go figure.

But that actually brings me to my point. Finally.

The reason I’m not working as a paralegal in the conventional sense is because competition for entry-level jobs in the greater New York City area is stiff. And firms that are hiring new paralegals insist that candidates have at least one year of experience.

And that raises the age-old conundrum. How are you supposed to get any experience if no one will hire you because you don’t have any experience?

It is a dilemma that young professionals — and those of us who have switched fields — have always faced. But these days, this predicament is not unique to job-seekers in the legal profession. Aspiring trial lawyers who are gainfully employed often find themselves in a similar quandary.

According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, a federal judge’s reaction to a young lawyer’s presence in his New York courtroom highlights the dearth of opportunities for would-be litigators.

Apparently, U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis objected to the fact that a law firm sent a “junior lawyer” to participate in a routine scheduling conference. Strenuously. He reportedly claimed the decision to do so was “outrageous and irresponsible and insulting,” and demanded that Kirkland & Ellis LLP “send a partner” to the next hearing.

Granted, the actual presentation of arguments in the matter, described by The Wall Street Journal as  “a pair of cases alleging Facebook facilitates communication among terrorists,” would best be made by an experienced attorney. But it is not unreasonable to think that a junior attorney could handle something as simple as a scheduling conference. I mean, that’s hardly a matter of life and death.

And according to The Wall Street Journal, many judges agree. Some are even demanding that new lawyers are sent to handle routine matters in their courts.

Current practices just aren’t cutting it, one judge told the Journal.

“If the veteran lawyers of tomorrow get no trial experience, there will be even fewer trials in the future,” said Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Gregg Costa.

Kathi Vidal, a California attorney also quoted in the article, agrees.

“People become trial lawyers because they want to be in court—not sit at desks,” she said.

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