I’d like to share an episode I witnessed in court recently. An experienced attorney sat with his client, waiting for his case to be called. When his case came up, the attorney stood up and told the judge, right in front of his client, “I can’t argue this case without my associate attorney. She’s been handling the case, and she’s in another courtroom.”
I cannot believe that this lawyer was not embarrassed by his clear inability to handle his own case. With his client paying $700 – $1,000 an hour to hire a named partner in the firm, is it unreasonable to expect them to learn the basic details of the suit? Not only did this attorney appear to hand the entire case over to his younger associate, he most likely charged an additional $300 – $400 for the associate’s time, as well.
But the judge let it slide, and the client kept his mouth shut, because unfortunately this practice is not uncommon in family law. I’ve seen associates spoon feed facts to their boss throughout an entire trial, and even watched an opposing attorney completely turn his case over to his younger associate before the entire courtroom.
With the media making so much about the financial burden of divorce, is it too much to ask that attorneys at least give their clients what they paid for? When you hire an experienced veteran in any legal field, you’re paying not just for their name, but also for their expertise, insight, and judgment both inside and outside the courtroom.
Associate attorneys are certainly helpful for research and preparation, and I employ them myself to ensure that they can provide the necessary backup to enable me to represent my client to the best of my ability. But I am still responsible for the case and understand that the client hired me, based on my skills and reputation, not the associate. Apparently, not all of my colleagues would agree.