Roundup of week 1 in a two-woman private public interest law practice

October 13th, 2012 by Briana Cummings

This week, the first at my new job, I have been confronted with more discretionary decisionmaking than I have ever encountered while working in this field. In prior law jobs, all of my assignments  — researching legal questions, investigating factual background, writing motions, preparing bench memoranda — were pretty cut-and-dry. Does this person have a Fourth Amendment claim? What are the country conditions in El Salvador? What are the elements of this client’s complaint?

Now all of that seems so . . . boilerplate.

What we did this week:

  • Trying to resolve a fee dispute between a client and our co-counsel. He’s been calling the office pretty aggressively. The partner I’m working with asks me to research the client’s background, the value of the claim, anything that will help us decide whether to go any further with the case. We will meet with him next week to see if we can smooth things out.
  • Trying to decide whether to take on a case that has been referred to us from another attorney. The partner asks me to research the background of the individuals we have been asked to sue and of the corporation that employs them. Have either been subject to complaints before? What might the value of a settlement be if we went ahead? Should we use the press? If so, should we do so before or after we send the demand letter? How should we structure a fee arrangement? I spend hours poking around on public records databases, news outlets, LinkedIn, scouring Facebook wall posts for any clues, feeling very creepy.
  • Trying to decide how to overturn a judgment made last month in juvenile court. The partner handed me the file for our client and told me to write the opening brief for the appeal. In my effort to leave no stone unturned, I question every single move made in the juvenile court proceedings: Why did the judge deny deferred entry of judgment? Can I challenge her on that? Why did the prosecutor charge my client with that crime and not another? Why did the judge convict? Can I challenge her on that? How did she calculate the “maximum exposure” (the time my client could spend in juvenile detention)? Can I challenge her on that? Why did she take away the parents’ custody? Can she really do that?? And if she can, doesn’t she have to give a better reason than the (very vague) one she gave?? (You realize, when you’re doing this, how much power the state has over private citizens . . . . It’s really very scary.) Why did no one hear from my client during the entire proceeding, from arrest to sentencing? And what about trial counsel? Did he make any mistakes? (And if so, how on earth will I identify which ones?) How many bones should I pick? Which bones are most likely to be winners?

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