Friday, December 02, 2005

Two birds with one stone

A trial defense to indigent criminal defendants provides not only a great public service but also the "on the ground" trial experience that big firms are no longer able to offer their associates for paying clients. Although the story below leads with a standing offer regarding trial services for federal indigent prisoners, a bigger story would be a similar offer for the countless numbers of indigent state criminal court defendants, especially death eligible defendants, who would benefit from this kind of pro bono effort.

Trial-less Lawyers

As More Cases Settle, Firms SeekPro Bono Work to HoneAssociates' Courtroom Skills

By NATHAN KOPPEL Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL December 1, 2005

Marc Kadish, a partner at Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP, recently made an offer to federal judges in Chicago, where the law firm is based: The 1,300-member firm would represent, pro bono, any prisoner with a case set for trial who didn't already have counsel. Since prisoners are prolific case filers and most private lawyers disdain such cases, Mayer Brown thinks the offer will give its young associates the opportunity to hone their courtroom skills -- and it might be one of the few chances they get in the near future.

The notion that trials are "vanishing" should catch the attention of all trial lawyers around the country. If true, this is especially problematic in the criminal arena, where plea bargaining is largely supplanting trial by jury in the vast majority of cases. Does this mean that the government is getting it right in almost every instance? Or are there still times when the wrong person stands accused by a bureaucracy that makes more than a few mistakes? In what percentage of cases does the government get it right? No one seriously thinks that it's 100%, so the real issue is whether justice is done in that percentage of times (10%? 15%? More?) when the wrong person stands accused. Let's get on the stick and help out here. Without an able defense lawyer, an indigent defendant is going to take a plea in almost every instance for a variety of reasons not necessary to dwell upon here. Here is the entire story on this subject.


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