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Life’s Too Short

Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice put up a post earlier today about the disturbing phenomenon of new lawyers teaching continuing legal education courses. It’s a must-read that brings a story to mind.

Pretty much every year I attend the Arizona Public Defender Association’s Annual Statewide Conference. I am perpetually surprised by the lack of the experience of many of the presenters and the depth of experience of most of those who sit in the audience. One particular situation arising from that continues to amuse me years later.

For a few years, I’ve frequently sought advice from an appellate public defender I met through my wife. To say I admire him greatly would be an understatement. He’s amazing. He’s been licensed since 1975 and is an encyclopedia of criminal law. He’s been the attorney of record in so many published cases that it’s tough to teach a state criminal law CLE without discussing one of them.

I don’t recall the specific CLE he was attending, but it was being taught by someone who started law school when I did. I think the topic was voir dire. I think she hadn’t done a jury trial yet. To her credit, she started off by acknowledging her inexperience and making a comment about how most people in the audience probably knew more than she did. What did that appellate lawyer I know do?

He promptly and conspicuously stood up and walked out.

Having dinner with him and his wife several months later, I brought up that CLE. He didn’t specifically recall it, as he’s walked out on quite a few CLEs over the years, apparently. Luckily, he explained why he probably did it: “I’m too old to waste my time listening to people talking about things they don’t understand.”

See why I said he’s amazing?

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6 Responses to "Life’s Too Short"

  1. Andrew B says:


    While I generally agree with what Scott is saying, there are instances where a “new” lawyer can present a CLE to mare experienced practitioners. Two years out of law school I presented several CLEs on a particular piece of Arizona legislation. I had exhaustively studied the issue in law school, interviewed the people behind the drafting of the statute, and published a journal article about it. Despite my lack of practice experience, I knew that topic inside and out, and my published work had been cited by the Arizona Court of Appeals and Supreme Court.

    In other words, while most inexperienced lawyers shouldn’t be teaching more experienced ones, there are exceptions….

    1. Matt Brown says:

      You aren’t normal (I mean that in a nice way). But you’re also right. There are new lawyers with impressive knowledge and also new lawyers with remarkable skill at things that take most people decades to master, just like there are experienced lawyers who have absolutely no clue what they’re doing and shouldn’t be teaching anyone anything. If I’ve learned anything as a lawyer, it’s that there are always exceptions…

      1. shg says:

        Does this reflect a shift in focus from the rule, as stated in the post, or the exception, as stated in your comment, or are you trying to pleasse everyone, and by doind so, making no point at all?

        1. Matt Brown says:

          I don’t think it has to be either. It seems to me that there is a shift from the old rule, but it isn’t because there are lots of unusually competent people (like Andrew). It’s because everyone wants to be happy and feel good and play make-believe about their awesomeness.

          Whether we’re still generally following the rule or have completely abandoned it so anyone can teach anyone anything, he’s still an exception.

  2. Max Kennerly says:

    How many CLEs has he taught?

    1. Matt Brown says:

      I’m not sure. Probably none recently, but whenever he sits in on someone else’s CLE (and doesn’t leave), he effectively ends up teaching it as soon as people realize who he is and start asking him questions.

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