I have noticed a strange propensity at my firm. I think it exists in the wild in our profession almost everywhere. There is a complete lack of appreciation for specific knowledge of the individual. This is an odd claim for what in effect is a profession of ‘knowledge workers’ such as attorneys, where specialized knowledge is supposed to be our raison d’être. It is a simple concept, firms very often don’t use the people with the most knowledge for the specifically on-point task that knowledge would most benefit. For example…
Several months ago I was given a research task. Our litigation group was expecting a radioactive motion to be dropped in our lap by the opposing counsel any day. We knew it was coming, and we generally knew what the legal theory they would be arguing was going to be, and that it would be bad for us. But beyond knowing the outline of the problem, no one in the firm had done any in-depth legal research into the topic. The onus fell on me (for a variety of political reasons above my paygrade) to untie the Gordian knot of a state law which had basically been enacted as a complete bar against what we were arguing in the case. It was a big case, and I was aiming to impress.
I spent what was very likely, collectively, days researching the topic. We knew the motion would show up at some point, but until it did, I kept researching the issue. I had read every case dealing with the particular statute, I knew the loopholes, I had read the legislative floor session for the bill, I knew who was currently arguing similar cases in the state and had even reached out to other law firms to speak to attorneys who had lost a recent case on the issue to see where they thought they went awry. In short, I knew the issue better than anyone in the firm. I kept researching the issue, because the motion we were all expecting just never seemed to materialize.
But finally, the day came. The motion showed up with exactly the argument I was expecting. I gave a short presentation on the topic to a combined litigation group and talked about strategy and how we might attack it or maybe even sidestep the issue. It all seemed to be very well received and I came in the next day ready to write an amazing answer.
But, instead it was assigned to a different associate from a different group who hadn’t researched the law at all. I handed them a respectable pile of research notes and caselaw, which I am fairly certain they never looked at considering the answer he wrote was so poorly constructed. He argued a very weak point, that was at its core… just… wrong. It wasn’t merely that I disagreed with how they attempted to approach the issue, it was that it was legally incorrect and showed a profound misunderstanding of the central construction of the law at issue.
It didn’t make any sense… why have the person with the greatest background in a given topic, NOT work on that topic? I was actually angry I hadn’t been given more work to do, because that should have been my work. But it obviously isn’t only me this happens to.
This institutional ignorance is probably shown nowhere better than during an actual trial. It seems no matter the firm, the story plays out the same. I’ve had a chance to watch it unfold several times. Most recently another litigation attorney at the firm had a case actually reach trial. A few days before trial was set to start, they were kicked from first to (effectively) third chair. Instead, the managing partner effectively waltzed into a trial and took over the whole of the litigation from the attorney and associates who knew the background and intricacies of the case. I watched the managing partner proceed to question witnesses about generic topics, eating up the majority of the time grandstanding, and leaving only a few minutes for the other attorney who had been working the case for 2-years to try to clean up the facts and the record before the witness was excused. Apparently, a brief conference room meeting is all it takes to get caught up on a complex litigation case.
(to name drop a little) I also watched it happen at Reed Smith. The exact situation played out, and the senior associate who had been in the case and elbow deep in the paperwork quite literally every day for months, was relegated to spectator seating (not even at the attorney tables) while 2 senior partners argued the case instead. It almost seems like the British Barrister / Solicitor system.
The same thing happens at the firm I am at during meditations. A senior partner would decide to show up and continually ask questions (during the mediation) and then make snap judgments without the benefit of knowing why certain arguments (or settlements) were ridiculous and potentially hurting the mediation.
In effect, for the political benefit and cachet of parading in front of the client to show that “the big guns” are on the case, the quality of the representation takes a hit as those with the least knowledge decide to take it over. I am in awe of the stupidity, every time it happens, and yet it happens so often in so many ways.