Thursday, July 19, 2012
In Praise of Praising Legal Aid Lawyers
A brief essay on Forbes.com has made the rounds this week, In Praise of Legal Aid lawyers. The piece focuses on criminal defense legal aid lawyers, and why society should appreciate their work. The essay doesn't add anything too unfamiliar to this discussion. But it effectively and efficiently makes the case to both lawyers and non-lawyers for valuing public defenders--as evidence by all my current and former public defender friends on Facebook who posted and re-posted this link.
Some jurisdictions, such as Florida, still sadly seem not to get the need for a fully viable indigent defense system. I suppose funding will always be a challenge. But a lot of good indigent defense policies nevertheless have gained traction to help the criminal justice system better realize the unfulfilled promise of Gideon. For instance, the Washington State Supreme Court recently adopted indigent defense standards, including guidelines on caseload limits and attorney qualifications and a certification requirement. Seattle University law prof Robert Boruchowitz, with whom I served on the WSBA Council on Public Defense, details the Court's order here. Other jurisdictions, such as New York, have pursued similar ideas with some success.
As this patchwork of reform hopefully becomes more widespread, the question will become more pressing of what the promise of Gideon functionally should look like in individual and institutional practice. In the food for thought column, I wanted recommend a recent article, Padilla v. Kentucky: Sound and Fury, or Transformative Impact, by CUNY law prof, and former Legal Aid colleague and fantasy baseball competitor, Steve Zeidman. This article considers what Padilla should mean for the constitutional standards of criminal defense work. The bottom line I took from Steve's article: Padilla should mean getting to know your client and his or her case much better, pleading fewer cases out, especially early in the process, and trying more stinkin' cases. The trend, of course, seems quite the opposite: more guilty pleas, fewer trials.
While reading and enjoying the Forbes.com essay praising Legal Aid lawyers, I thought of the Legal Aid lawyers and offices modeled in Steve's article.
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A recent RAND study, soon to appear in the Yale LJ finds: "Compared to appointed counsel, public defenders in Philadelphia reduce their clients' murder conviction rate by 19% and lower the probability that their clients receive a life sentence by 62%. Public defenders reduce overall expected time served in prison by 24%."
I am a veteran public defender praiser - particularly the 550 strong New Jersey statewide Office of the Public Defender. They participated in every one of the 228 capital trials in New Jersey from legislative restoration in 1982 to repeal in 2007. Not a single execution.
For more details and a link to the RAND study see my post: http://blackstonetoday.blogspot.com/2012/07/how-much-difference-does-lawyer-make.html
Posted by: George Conk | Jul 19, 2012 9:50:50 PM
Like George, I was going to link to the summary of the rand study in this new short piece making the case for public defenders too. It's by Peter Joy and Kevin McMunigal.
Everyone teaching crim pro adjudication should read this and probably include it (or something akin to it) in their teaching materials this coming year.
Posted by: Dan Markel | Jul 20, 2012 11:38:38 AM