I was recently talking with a friend in another state who had to hire a bankruptcy attorney. Being a lawyer himself, he started with a former classmate of his from 21 years ago. After meeting with her, he did some independent research of his own and discovered that her proposed approach would have cost him a lot of money. When he called her to verify that, her response was that she had been practicing for 21 years and he could take her advice or not.
That started an interesting conversation about how we measure experience. A lot of attorneys measure experience in the number of years they’ve practiced. A few firms will tout that they’ve collectively practiced for 150 years or more. But if you’ve done your work the same way every year for 21 years, you haven’t grown any. That 21 years of experience isn’t much more than the 1st year of experience if you haven’t been challenged along the way.
I polled our attorneys recently to see what they listed as milestones. We have one who has won unanimous United States Supreme Court AND Georgia Supreme Court decisions. He’s also tried federal Hague cases in multiple states and foreign countries. We have one attorney who has argued before the Georgia Supreme Court and the Georgia Court of Appeals on multiple occasions, taught law school, and tried Hague cases in multiple jurisdictions. We have another attorney who has created new law that not only applies to Hague cases in Georgia, but one recently that will be cited by courts in Hague member nations around the world. We have multiple attorneys who have tried Hague cases, handled appeals, worked in other jurisdictions, presented at Continuing Legal Education programs, won large attorney’s fees awards, named to Super Lawyers lists, and have had countless favorable verdicts for their clients, week after week, for years. And each of them talked about how much they grew as attorneys as a result of having those experiences, conquering those challenges and meeting those milestones.
The better gauge of experience are milestones, not years of practicing. When you meet with an attorney, ask them: “What milestones has your firm reached in its practice? What milestones have you reached?” While you can certainly hire an attorney who has practiced 21 years, if they can’t point to specific milestones in those 21 years that advanced their skill set, then they’ve probably been doing it the same way, one year after another, for 21 years.
And that way could be very costly.