There’s No Substitute for Experience

If you need the help of a professional, a critical quality you need to look for is experience. Whether you’re looking for a doctor, an accountant or a lawyer, experience will teach many things that you don’t learn in the classroom. It’s that practical experience that may make the difference between success or failure.

When you start a professional career, you will, by definition, lack experience. We all started somewhere and were entrusted with various responsibilities, and upon that foundation we built our careers. We encountered new situations, new issues, made mistakes and learned. Some attorneys had mentors that helped them along the way; others started out as solo practitioners and jumped right in.

If you’re looking for legal representation, however, do you want to take chances with someone who will “learn by doing” while working on your legal matters? The outcome might be what you hoped for, but do you want to risk the fact that inexperience may harm you? Your case might take longer, be more expensive or not be resolved as you hoped.

The lower the value of the issue, the less the risk. If you get a haircut from someone just starting out, you may or may not look good afterward -- but hair grows back, and you can soon get another haircut from someone else if it’s not to your liking.

A lawsuit isn’t a haircut. You may need legal help because you’re permanently disabled after an accident and can no longer work. Your professional career could be hamstrung because of the illegal acts of a former employer. Tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars might be at stake, perhaps even millions, depending on the situation.

In the legal profession there are many areas where experience can really help.

·       We deal with people all the time, and we get a feel for when someone is lying to us or hiding the truth. It can be body language, tone of voice or that what we’re told just doesn’t add up. Whether it’s someone who’s looking for an attorney, an opposing party, a witness to an incident or even a client, people lie to lawyers all the time, even when they’re under oath. With experience you get a better idea of who’s truthful and who’s not, and that can make a big difference in a case.

·       Because of the number of attorneys who practice, many of us specialize in one or two areas of law. Financially it doesn’t make sense to take every type of case that someone may need help with. With specialization we’re able to focus our experience in particular areas. This way we don’t have to spend the time learning new laws with each case, and our clients get a higher quality of service.

·       With any case there may be dozens of possible facts. With experience an attorney learns which ones are the most important and can focus on those facts that really matter. We can spend our time getting down to the facts that may make or break a case, not all the peripheral facts that just fill in the details.

·       Trial practice takes more than just being knowledgeable in an area of law. There are hundreds of rules (both formal and informal) that can apply, whether that’s how one should act in front of a judge, civil procedure, what the local court clerk wants to see in order for something to be filed, the rules of evidence or simply the courtroom “culture” that a judge enforces in his or her courtroom. If you have enough experience with a judge, you get a better idea of what kind of argument or evidence may get a favorable decision and what simply isn’t going to fly with the judge. That can help you create successful arguments and avoid ones that will just waste everyone’s time.

Though technically anyone licensed to practice law in a jurisdiction could provide any number of legal services, attorneys who not only want to protect themselves but also help clients and potential clients will refer them to experienced attorneys they trust If they feel that will better serve the client. The attorney who wrote your will or helped you with a workers' compensation claim may not be the right person to help you if your property is being flooded with toxic sludge from a nearby business.

If you need legal help, if you have already used the services of an attorney and had a positive experience, ask him or her if they also handle the kind of matter you’re coping with. If not, ask for a referral. Whether talking to your current attorney or interviewing someone new, ask about their experience with what you need help with:

·       How many such cases have they handled?

·       Over how long a time frame?

·       How were the cases resolved?

·       What has the lawyer learned while handling these cases, and how does that experience impact their handling of cases today?

If after, consideration, you find that you’re more comfortable with someone who is less experienced, that’s your decision to make. But you may be running a higher risk of a less successful outcome and someday regret that you didn't go with the more seasoned attorney.