Judges Want to See More Young Lawyers in Court

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on September 28, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

When Kirkland & Ellis sent a junior associate to a status conference, Eastern District of New York Judge Nicholas Garaufis had a bit of a fit. For the BigLaw firm to send an associate instead of a partner, for it to "think so little of this court," was "outrageous, irresponsible, and insulting," Garaufis said. Then he refused to continue the conference. "I've been a lawyer for 41 years and a judge for 16 years and I'm not having this discussion with you," he told the Kirkland associate, according to the New York Daily News.

But Garaufis may be the exception, not the rule. While young associates have been increasingly shut out of court in recent years, working more as glorified law clerks than litigators, some judges are making a point to demand fresher blood in the courtrooms.

Not Everyone Demands Partners

Garaufis might have been insulted by the lack of a partner's presence in his court, and we can only assume the third year associate was pretty insulted by Garaufis as well, but many judges are more than happy to see young associates get court time.

According to the Wall Street Journal, a growing number of judges are even demanding to see less senior attorneys handling matters in their courts:

So far, a couple dozen judges in California, Massachusetts and Texas have issued court orders to that effect, with some even saying they won't schedule a hearing on certain routine issues unless junior lawyers are the ones presenting the arguments.

Take the case of Judge James Donato (N.D. Cal.), the anti-Garaufis. Just a day before  Garaufis's rant, the Journal notes, Donato was complaining that the lawyers coming before him were too seasoned. Donato had asked Morrison & Foerster to send a lawyer within their first six years of practice to handle oral arguments in a class action suit against Fitbit.

Only an attorney with eight or more years could handle the assignment, MoFo said. In response, Donato threatened to "adjust the time allocated to each side to account for any disparity caused by defendant's selection of attorneys outside the Court's specifications."

Moving on From Old, Crusty White Dudes

There are many reasons why it's rare to see young lawyers helming big trials. First, there are simply fewer cases going to trial than there once were. Secondly, senior lawyers simply bill at higher rates. And, of course, when the stakes are high, many clients want to see their cases handled by the most experienced, highest profile lawyers in the firm, not the new kid.

But some firms recognize the importance of allowing associates to gain courtroom experience. The Journal points to Susman Godfrey, a litigation boutique that sent a fourth year associate to argue a case against Apple recently. She won. "If we just gave it to an old, crusty white dude, what good does that do for the institution?" a partner at Susman told the Journal.

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