From Law School to Solo: Is it Criminal?
An interesting discussion is going on among the blogosphere's criminal defense bar. The question under debate is whether someone straight out of law school should go directly into a solo criminal defense practice.
New York criminal defense lawyer Scott Greenfield kicked off the conversation when he wrote a post addressed to law students who ask him this question. "Whereas once I argued that the notion of flying solo straight out of law school was decidedly wrong, the new reality is that many law students will have no choice," he wrote. "Solo practice is the alternative to sitting at home playing Wii. The latter is not an option." Greenfield suggested two options for how to go about it. Option A is to establish an apprentice-like relationship with an established criminal defense lawyer. Option B is to find a mentor.
Greenfield's post prompted a follow-up by Ken Lammers, a Virginia prosecutor who formerly had his own criminal defense practice. He suggested an Option C -- nose to the grindstone. "I started out with three Sears' suits, a computer, printer, dial-up internet, subscription to VersusLaw (along with the free use of FindLaw and All Law), a folding table, folding chair, cardboard file boxes, one phone line, fax/answering machine, and business cards," he writes, adding that it was all set up in his living room. "Work hard, work smart, be frugal, and you can get there."
Next to weigh in was Miami criminal defense lawyer Brian Tannebaum, who says going straight to solo is a dumb ass idea. "I believe to practice criminal defense a newly minted law student should be required to do one of three things: be a prosecutor, be a public defender, 'clerk' with a practicing criminal defense lawyer who's been practicing criminal defense at least five years," he writes.
Arizona lawyer Matt Brown is one who actually went straight into solo criminal defense work out of law school. He sees no reason why others shouldn't do the same. He sought out advice and training and says he got it from some of the best criminal defense lawyers in his area. "If you make competence top priority and lay the proper groundwork, there’s no reason not to go right into solo practice criminal defense."
The next blogger to speak up was Bobby G. Frederick, whose opinion was that the opinions of those who preceded him were all correct, "depending on who we are talking about." This South Carolina lawyer says he envies lawyers who started their criminal defense practice right out of law school. "I would recommend spending a couple of years at a public defender office or as an associate with a more established defense attorney, but if you are dedicated I have no doubt that you will gain the same experience learning from your fellow members of the bar, you need only reach out to enough of them."
Last but not least comes Mark Bennett from Houston, who sees a gap in representation that the newly minted solo would be perfect to fill. The indigent get appointed counsel and the well-off hire counsel of their choosing. But people in between, he says, are stuck. "This is the niche in which the newly-minted criminal defense lawyer on her own can do the most good: representing zealously those who would otherwise hire a quick-plea specialist."
But would the barely trained criminal defense lawyer have the competence of one who first works as a public defender or prosecutor? Doesn't matter, Bennett says. "The new lawyer taking a case for $500 doesn't have to be as competent as the ten-year lawyer. She just has to be more competent than the other lawyers taking cases for $500."
Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on March 25, 2009 at 02:02 PM | Permalink
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