Pioneering Federal Judge Speaks About the Effects of Her Order on Speaking Roles for NextGen Lawyers

U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn, the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, is a pioneer in incentivizing law firms to give oral advocacy opportunities to young lawyers. Around 10 years ago, Judge Lynn issued an order “strongly [encouraging] litigants to be mindful of opportunities for young lawyers to conduct hearings before the Court.” Judge Lynn’s order noted that, in deciding whether to hold a hearing on a particular issue, “a representation that the argument would be handled by a young lawyer will weigh in favor of holding a hearing.” Since then, 20 to 30 judges have followed Judge Lynn’s example and issued similar orders encouraging oral advocacy opportunities for young lawyers. Judge Lynn recently discussed her observations about the effects of her order in an interview with the Texas Lawyer.

Judge Lynn notes that she has observed a significant number of oral advocacy opportunities given to young lawyers, although the frequency of this is “slightly less than [she] would have thought.” She thinks her order provides an excuse to firms “to do what they think is the right thing” and a reason they can offer to clients to justify giving young lawyers oral advocacy opportunities. As Judge Lynn points out, “[a] lawyer can say to a client, ‘Judge Lynn really likes it when young lawyers show up. We are not going to win or lose because of that, but she is going to appreciate it and it’s a good frame of mind for her be in.’”

Even though the order emphasizes experience level of attorneys, Judge Lynn has observed that the order has also led to greater oral advocacy opportunities for women and minority attorneys. This is mainly due to the fact that women and minority attorneys are underrepresented among more experienced attorneys. As Judge Lynn points out, in the absence of the incentives provided by her order, “the default is to senior lawyers, and the more senior lawyers are more white and male.”

The story of a recent oral argument by Mini Kapoor, an associate at Haynes and Boone’s Huston office, shows the effectiveness of the type of “young lawyers” orders that Judge Lynn has pioneered. Kapoor argued at a motion hearing before U.S. District Judge Alfred H. Bennett of the Southern District of Texas on June 29, 2017. Haynes and Boone’s request for a hearing, authored by Huston office partner Michael Mazzone, noted that Kapoor will be arguing at the hearing, that she had “contributed significantly” to the motion being argued, and that she had “been practicing for less than seven years.” Judge Bennett, who had adopted a “young lawyers” order within six months after he went on the federal bench in April 2015, scheduled the hearing, as he says he “automatically” does in cases where he expects a young lawyer will be arguing. Judge Bennett’s order helped Mazzone obtain the client’s consent to the idea of having Kapoor argue in the hearing. As a result, Kapoor got the chance to argue before Judge Bennett and gain valuable experience from that opportunity.

How have young lawyers performed when given oral advocacy opportunities? Judge Lynn notes that young lawyers “work extremely hard because they appreciate these opportunities are precious and few and far between, so they are generally very well-prepared.” Judge Lynn has tried to incentivize young lawyers to perform better by making “it clear from the get-go: There is not any coddling. They are playing in the big leagues and they are expected to hit the ball.”

Over time, more and more judges are encouraging their colleagues to adopt “young lawyers” orders and help young lawyers gain more speaking opportunities. For example, Judge Bennett got the idea for his order from U.S. Circuit Court Judge Gregg Costa of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit who was formerly a colleague of Bennett at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. Costa, in turn, got the idea for his order from Judge Lynn. At this point, at least four judges in the Southern District have adopted “young lawyers” orders.

Judge Lynn said she hopes that, as young lawyers get more oral advocacy opportunities, they will have an easier time advancing in law firms. “These speaking opportunities should be very important to law firms in making someone a partner in the trial section,” Judge Lynn points out. If Judge Lynn is right, her efforts and the efforts of other judges who have followed her example can have an important effect on fostering professional development among young lawyers as well as on increasing diversity in legal profession.

Written by: Pooya Shoghi and Noori Torabi, August 21, 2017