Lawyers with more experience obtain better outcomes

Lee Epstein, Ethan A.H. Shepley Distinguished University Professor


In response to a question about the importance of experienced attorneys in the Supreme Court, Justice Clarence Thomas said:

If it’s my money on the line, I’d be as risk averse as anybody else. I mean you go with the .400 hitter. That doesn’t mean you’re gonna win but … go with someone who will increase your odds.

Supporting Thomas’ response is long-standing theory on human capital. The idea is that through work experience, individuals acquire on-the-job-training, sometimes highly specialized training, which leads them to be more productive and more successful, and, in turn, earn higher salaries. For this reason, litigants who retain experienced Supreme Court lawyers should be at an advantage relative to those who hire first-timers. As Justice Robert Jackson, a seasoned Supreme Court litigator, put it, “Experience before the Supreme Court is valuable, as is experience in any art. One who is at ease in its presence, familiar with its practice … holds some advantage over the stranger to such matters.”

Read the full piece in SCOTUSblog.