The NY Times has been covering the debate over the proposal to drop the third year of law school in exchange for a paid fellowship. President Obama is in favor of the proposal. We're not.
We've often noticed the disparity between how doctors are trained and how lawyers are trained. After four years of medical school, students who graduate are matched with hospitals as residents where they practice and expand on their skills in pressurized hospital settings for two to three years. Once their residency is over, specialists begin fellowships that can last another 3-6 years. The result is a well trained doctor able to competently handle human lives. Do the math- a well trained surgeon with a six year fellowship trains for almost ten years after leaving medical school.
What is the equivalent in the law? Some law students clerk for judges for two years, which can be expanded to four years if they follow their initial clerkship with an appellate clerkship. Otherwise, the anvil of a three year stint in the local prosecutor or PDs office is all the additional training a select few lawyers receive. The rest go to work for law firms that have varying degrees of training programs, and frighteningly, some just put up a website and twitter handle (the 2013 equivalent of hanging out a shingle).
Law schools already churn out lawyers, the effects of which are price pressures for services in the marketplace. But you get what you pay for. And from our lofty perspective, the sight of poor families squeezing out a few dollars in the mistaken belief that a "private lawyer" will do a better job than a public defender results in lawyers who are nothing more than plea mills- incapable by lack of training in trying a case, and unable financially (based on ridiculously low fees) to afford to do anything more than plea out their client.
We need less lawyers and better training, and a two year law school provides neither.
Are their any more difficult cases to handle as a defense attorney than DUI manslaughters? Your clients are often not your typical criminal clients. They are often individuals who are otherwise law abiding and having made the fatal mistake of driving after drinking, are facing life altering prison sentences. Last Friday Judge Bronwyn Miller sentenced one such defendant to twelve years in prison. Central to the sentencing hearing was the defense's argument that similar cases in the REGJB have resulted in sentences of three to four years.
We don't criticize Judge Miller's sentence (the prosecution, typically, was asking for twenty years). Every case is different and what we want are experienced judges who are able to evaluate each case on its own merits, and not afraid to give
sentences less than the state and the grieving family want when the situation merits it. What we worry about is that this series of high publicity cases will prompt the Florida Legislature to again raise the minimum mandatory prison sentence for these crimes from four years to something ridiculous. All minimum mandatory sentences accomplish is the transfer of power for sentencing to the usually least experienced individual in the courtroom (the prosecutor) from the usually most experienced person in the courtroom (The judge).
These difficult cases help highlight our concern that minimum mandatories are destroying the traditional concepts of american jurisprudence, where an independent and empowered judiciary are central to our constitutional concepts of due process and fundamental fairness.
See You In Court.