Judge Lynn Helps Provide Opportunities for Young Lawyers
by Anthony P. Miller
It is a well-known and oft-lamented fact that each year, fewer and fewer cases go to trial. Those few that do are often high-stakes matters that clients will entrust only to the most experienced trial lawyers. This is a problem—for young lawyers, for the firms that employ them, and down the line, for their clients. In the Northern District of Texas, Judge Barbara M. G. Lynn is involved with two efforts to combat this issue.
Hearings for Young Lawyers
Judges across the country are adapting their standard orders to encourage parties and firms to give young lawyers speaking roles at trial and in hearings. Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California has led the charge, writing that he “strongly encourage[s] lead counsel to permit young lawyers to examine witnesses at trial and to have an important role,” He has even gone so far as to state that he will grant hearings on motions “[i]f a written request for oral argument is filed … stating that a lawyer of four or fewer years out of law school will conduct the oral argument or at least the lion’s share.”
Here in Texas, Judge Lynn is heading up a similar effort. Over a period of months, she solicited the input of a group of young lawyers drawn from a variety of firms, both large and small, across Northern Texas to create the following guidelines for practice in her courtroom:
The Court is aware of a trend today in which fewer cases go to trial, and in which there are generally fewer speaking or “stand-up” opportunities in court, particularly for young lawyers (i.e., lawyers practicing for less than seven years). The Court strongly encourages litigants to be mindful of opportunities for young lawyers to conduct hearings before the Court, particularly for motions where the young lawyer drafted or contributed significantly to the underlying motion or response. In those instances where the Court is inclined to rule on the papers, a representation that the argument would be handled by a young lawyer will weigh in favor of holding a hearing. The Court understands that there may be circumstances where having a young lawyer handle a hearing might not be appropriate—such as where no young lawyers were involved in drafting the motion, or where the motion might be dispositive in a “bet-the-company” type case. Even so, the Court believes it is crucial to provide substantive speaking opportunities to young lawyers, and that the benefits of doing so will accrue to young lawyers, to clients, and to the profession generally. Thus, the Court encourages all lawyers practicing before it to keep this goal in mind.
Judge Lynn is making this a part of her standard scheduling order, and Judges Boyle, Fitzwater, Furgeson, Ramirez, Stickney and Toliver have expressed interest in taking a similar approach.
The Pro Bono Civil Panel
The Northern District has also created the Pro Bono Civil Panel (PBCP)—a list of solo, small-firm and large-firm attorneys from across the Northern District who are willing and able to provide legal assistance in civil matters to pro se litigants who cannot afford counsel. PBCP participants receive opportunities to appear in federal court for hearings and trials in a wide range of cases, including employment discrimination, civil rights and various diversity-jurisdiction matters. The PBCP’s goals are to provide quality pro bono legal representation for indigent, pro se litigants and to expand opportunities for young lawyers to gain valuable experience, including litigation experience.
The PBCP currently includes 22 firms and numerous individual attorneys. No federal litigation experience is necessary, and the registration form is available on the court’s website at www.txnd.uscourts.gov/attorneyinfo/probono.html. PBCP volunteers can decline appointments for various reasons, including a conflict of interest, another recent appointment or a busy work schedule. Some expenses and fees—up to $3,500 in expenses and $1,000 in fees—may be reimbursable under the court’s Plan for the Reimbursement of Attorney Expenses in Civil Cases.
PCBP cases will usually be referred to Magistrate Judges, and case appointments will be made only after a judge has determined—generally after summary judgment motions—that the case has some merit. A number of resources are available to panel members, including attorney mentors, mediators, court reporters and training.
With the cooperation of the bar, these efforts should go a long way toward helping young lawyers obtain the training and experience necessary to maintain a high standard of professionalism and excellence in the Northern District of Texas.
Anthony Miller is an associate at Thompson & Knight. He helped put together Judge Lynn's young-lawyers guidelines. He can be reached at Anthony.Miller@tklaw.com.