What is it about experience in any endeavor, including the practice of law, that causes it to be a preeminent factor when people compare services?
It is because life continues to be an experience on a day-to-day basis, and any good lawyer will know that the learning process never ends, regardless of how many years he or she may have been practicing law. Indeed, the nature of the word “practice”, in referring to the vocation of an attorney, implies that you are learning every day and getting better, at least in the minds of some who have entered this cherished profession.
Experience often determines how much one can garner for his toils based upon the presumption that he has learned skills that less experienced attorneys do not have. One thing is sure, you cannot obtain experience through marketing or advertising in the sense that you have to, so to speak, play it out. In other words, put in the years to gather the experience necessary to be top notch at your profession. All too often, I see young lawyers who may be academically skilled and extremely aggressive from a marketing standpoint but who lack the basic common sense and thoughtful equilibrium to make good decisions. Experience also means that you have learned your skills to an extent where you are reasoned enough to wait your turn, so to speak, in terms of whose toes you step on in the furtherance of your legal career. Often, those who have had spoons fed to them from their inception not only lack patience and consideration, but they are devoid of the experience necessary to know how to make the right decisions at the right time. It takes time to be a good lawyer.
Law school doesn’t teach you how to be a lawyer. A good law school will teach you how to think like a lawyer and give you the basic tools, but it is only through the school of hard knocks in the real world that you become “experienced” in what to do in a given situation. While certain situations may repeat themselves over a period of time, the beauty of the practice of law, in part, is that new circumstances and new factual scenarios pop up on almost a daily basis in which your experience will assist you, assuming you have had a sufficient degree of it.
What is enough experience? Well, it took me at least ten years before all of the pieces fit together, even though I had the opportunity to work as a clerk for the Michigan Court of Appeals and had the opportunity to work in two fine law firms being tutored, so to speak, by first class lawyers. But after a period of time, it became clear that I could make my own decisions without necessarily relying on the advice and consent of others (which does not mean, of course, that I never confer with others to make a decision to this day). But experience becomes invaluable, and after forty-seven years of practicing law, I recognize that experience is the most important tool that an attorney can have, assuming that he has the basic legal acumen necessary to effectively practice law. Experience involves personality, competence to know whether or not you can handle a matter, confidence in your ability to counsel a client and the drive which is necessary in order to zealously represent the interests of any client.
In short, there is no substitute for experience. Writing articles and other forms of marketing which many young lawyers find helpful to get their name out, while beneficial to their careers, is not a substitute for spending the time in the trenches to gain the necessary experience in order to make the proper decisions for the benefit of their clients. As the saying goes, there are no shortcuts in life other than those we imagine, and there are no shortcuts to putting in the years which are necessary to reach the ability to practice law at the highest level.
By Robert M. Meisner, Esq.