When medical students learn to practice, they first cut into cadavers. Now that law schools are trying to get into the act of skills training, they are trying to follow in the med schools’ footprints, except they cut into the poor. The poor bleed, just like the law students.
In a pair of pieces that unintentionally juxtapose a problem, the New York Times has an op-ed by Lincoln Caplan on the 50th Anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Gideon decision, holding that the right to counsel in criminal proceedings requires that poor defendants be given a lawyer. Here we are, 50 years later, and there are some courts in this country that have yet to read the opinion.
Only 24 states have statewide public defender systems. Others flout their constitutional obligations by pushing the problem onto cash-strapped counties or local judicial districts.
Lack of financing isn’t the only problem, either. Contempt for poor defendants is too often the norm. In Kentucky, 68 percent of poor people accused of misdemeanors appear in court hearings without lawyers. In 21 counties in Florida in 2010, 70 percent of misdemeanor defendants pleaded guilty or no contest — at arraignments that averaged less than three minutes.
Probably less interesting to most people who have yet to find themselves in the well than who will be the next person fired by Donald Trump (Omarosa? Seriously?). And thus, it should come as no surprise that warm bodies flow through courtrooms to jails and prisons without ever knowing what Clarence Earl Gideon did for them.
Which brings the next story, about Arizona State University’s law dean, Douglas J. Sylvester’s, epiphany to a place it wasn’t intended.
When Douglas J. Sylvester, dean of the law school at Arizona State University, was visiting the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota a couple of years ago he mentioned the shifting job market for his students — far fewer offers and a new demand for graduates already able to draft documents and interact with clients.
The Mayo dean responded that his medical students and graduates gained clinical experience in hospital rounds closely supervised by attending physicians.
“I realized that was what we needed,” Mr. Sylvester recalled. “A teaching hospital for law school graduates.”
What a cool analogy! Who doesn’t love cool analogies? But then, the relative cool is only proportional to how well it fits the situation. Fewer jobs for law students plus a demand for grads with skills are certainly concerns. But not the only concerns. Maybe nobody told Dean Sylvester? I bet he knew.
There was still the problem of obscenely high and wholly unjustifiable tuition, milking applicants and their doting parents at their most vulnerable and ignorant, courtesy of lovingly offered tuition loans. If they used glorious adjectives about the back end of law school, maybe nobody will think too hard about the cost at the front end.
Then there is the numbers game of supply and demand. Even if the law school grads are more skilled than before, there is still inadequate paying demand for them. Twice as many are being churned out as needed, and even if they are in a better position to hang a shingle because they can’t get a job, even solos need clients. Do clients want lawyers with skills? Sure. Does that mean that there are enough paying clients out there so that every grad can hang out a shingle? Nope. Well, they can, but they will grow very, very hungry.
It seems as if Dean Sylvester would be able to do the math. I bet his math is great when contract negotiations time rolls around, so why not now? The only reason I can come up with is that the opportunity presented by Gideon’s failure, that there are vast numbers of unrepresented Americans compelled to face a criminal court, giving the impression of a need and a chance to practice law.
It’s a bad analogy. These people need lawyers, desperately. These people deserve lawyers, because the Constitution provides for their right to be represented by counsel. And lawyers are not being provided as required. Not even close. But these aren’t lawyers. These are law students. These are fresh-faced, unjaded, highly-motivated and utterly clueless law students. And the analogy suggests that they make their very first cut on a living, breathing human being.
Does it hurt less if the person is poor? Will they bleed less?
And after the clinic, or intern, or whatever rebranded name is placed on the notion, comes to a close, there will still be no jobs for these law students who have now joined the ranks of unemployed graduates. They can open their 50,000 new law offices and the only phone calls they will get will be from copier salesmen and legal marketers. If they’re lucky, they will get a few calls for free answers and some pro bono representation. Paying clients? Well, not so much.
As for the poor, bleeding on the courtroom floors across America, they will still be poor, still be bleeding, but maybe have an eager, beaver law student explain that her professor says that the 4th Amendment requires the evidence be suppressed because they have no warrant, so they should go for it. So what if its a bit naive and less than a thorough legal analysis. The price was right, and it makes for good practice for the law student.
Lest you feel too badly for the poor defendants sacrificed on the alter of law school tuition and expediency, bear in mind that soon, both the poor defendant and the poor law grad will both be bleeding together.