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05/10/06

New rules for criminal attorneys


A recent Supreme Court ruling is now allowing the character of criminal defendants to play a crucial role in reducing prison sentences.

Criminal attorneys can now bring to light the positive aspects of their client's character and persuade the court to give lesser sentences. Based on the recent ruling from the Supreme Court, many cases have been reopened and sentences reduced.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in U.S. v. Booker that Federal Sentencing Guidelines are unconstitutional. The sentencing guidelines, which had been in place for nearly two decades, allowed judges to sentence defendants based on facts not heard by juries. As per the guidelines, the severity of the crime was given a number. Based on the number, the sentence was announced. To overcome this, the Supreme Court declares the guidelines to be advisory and not mandatory.

Now, several other factors can be taken into consideration during the sentencing phase, including personal history, family life and character.

The power to confer law degrees
The College of Law, the largest provider of postgraduate legal training in the UK, now has the power to award degrees. With this, it becomes the first non-university-affiliated law school to win degree-awarding status.

The unique decision, made by the Privy Council, follows a full scale review by the Quality Assessment Agency and a positive recommendation to the Department for Education and Skills.

The College of Law is the largest provider of vocational legal education and training in Europe. The College also offers a wide range of long-distance learning and continuing legal education.

COOL THREAD OF THE DAY
This is actually a pretty sad thread. Every now and again we discuss serious attorney career matters. The day before yesterday, a newcomer to Judged posted her sob story of hard luck in the legal industry.

ProBonoLifer: Went to law school to ultimately help people. Okay, some would disagree, but those are the people that don't see criminals as people. Anyways, racked up the thousands of dollars in loans to pay for the experience. Struggled with the bar exam. Got hired for the first job I interviewed for within 3 hours of the interview. Husband was transferred, so had to get a new job. New job was for a nitwit that didn't know the first thing about criminal law. Left and went to work for another nitwit that didn't know anything about criminal law. I feared (needlessly) the loss of my license for working with idiots asking me to do unethical things. Now, I still have the dream to be a great trial lawyer. Had some success with some gruesome cases while I worked on my own. Can't afford to do that forever. What gives? Worked so hard for so long and have nothing to show for it. Just sort of getting depressed and feeling like the people in the cages that I helped to get out. No, probably feeling worse than them. I have the common sense to see where society is heading. Any words of wisdom?

BullRunner: As a 4th year you (and I) are in the beginning phase of your career. People tell me that you are still learning how to be a lawyer so do not fret. I have found personally that I do not like most, almost all, of the lawyers I now know. I knew zero before I went to law school.

I have found most lawyers to be highly unethical, even if they preach a different story. I have found lawyers to be greedy, just like all of the funny jokes say. Hey, they are funny because they are true!

If you like being a lawyer, I hear there is a light at the end of the tunnel for you. All of us have worked hard to get here, but staying here isn't for everyone. You seem to have "bleeding heart liberal"ness about you since your alias is "ProBonoLifer." Again, I am well into my 4th year, and haven't spent one second on pro bono work. No one has ever asked me about it because the people I've worked for are all too greedy to care.

As a matter of fact, the people I now work for are so greedy that I cannot even find the time to work on the cases that I generate myself and I have to refer them out or have someone else at my firm work on them. Your depression is felt among the ranks, believe me.

Aligheri: I don't recall if it was Daniel Webster or Abraham Lincoln who said the following (and the way my brain is not working today, maybe neither), but the quote (roughly) is: "A lawyer should live well and die poor."

Unfortunately the legal economic structure has become no different than that of the corporate world. It's all about income. There's nothing wrong with making money, but that is not the mission of our profession. Of course, pro bono work is supposed to offset the egregious amount of money large law firms make. But here in Illinois, the idea of pro bono work is to give a $20 million defense to a former governor. Now there's something to be proud of.

Anyway, have you looked into becoming a public defender or joining a legal aid program? Or even as a prosecutor there is a lot of good you can do. The reality is that you cannot seek to save the world and expect to get paid for it. In our society a basketball player can be paid millions, and few people will complain, but if you ask to raise people's taxes to pay more for fireman, teachers, etc., the public will burn you in effigy.

For what it's worth, I'm glad there are still people like you out there. Don't give up.

ProBonoLifer: What is all of the greed about? You cannot take it with you. I was in a life-threatening car accident and wouldn't have been able to take anything with me. Trust me. I'm worth more dead than alive. The student loan debt hanging over my head is just a nightmare. Then, to listen to people tell you how much money you have because you are a lawyer. I don't have money, never have, never will. The people that I saw that have money screwed over their clients. They tried to teach me to screw over my clients. I couldn't do it.

My alias is ProBonoLifer because I get hired to do cases but the people never pay me. Then, I write it off as pro bono work. I worked as a court appointed attorney for the last 2 years. It was rough, but was the best because I actually got to feel like I was helping people. People that actually appreciated help. I can remember how many of them told me that they would give me a raise if they could. Other people warned me that these criminals would be rude and impolite. They are people and people usually treat you the way they are treated. If you act like they are people with feelings, then they treat you the same.

I don't know that I'm a "bleeding heart liberal. There are a lot of things that liberals are for that just infuriate me. I'm not a conservative by any means. I'm a person that misses society the way it was when I grew up. Not so greedy. Not so disorganized. Not so stupid. We all blame it on lack of time, but we need to make time for the things that matter. Always liked criminal law because I always thought of civil law as only for sellouts.

How do we get the word out to the public that all lawyers aren't rich? Some of us are actually honest.

BullRunner: The greed is mainly the partners, who have all the money. The people at the bottom, myself included, have no money. I didn't mean "bleeding heart liberal" as a cut, just as an observation. If you're not fine, and even if you are fine.

Truthfully, it sounds like your in the vast minority of lawyers in this country. I went to law school to make money. I am not making any so I have to rethink my current path. If you're happy with the way things are going in your practice, and the only problem for you is the money, I suggest that you live less extravagantly. I am not saying you are driving a Porsche or anything, but try that.

MeJD: You sound like a good person who has had a rough time.

I disagree with the contention that most lawyers are greedy and unethical. I have worked for small to large law firms for about nine years as an attorney(and three as a paralegal before law school) and I have never been asked to do anything unethical, nor have I seen my colleagues do unethical things. In fact, for seven years I was mentored by a partner who taught me to treat people fairly and with civility, even if they are your opponent.

I am a civil litigator. I don't think of myself as a sellout. There are many more jobs available in civil law than in criminal law. I interviewed for both criminal and civil jobs out of law school, but only civil firms had any interest in hiring me.

I also do not hate my job. I don't love it either, but it sure beats other work I have done in the past (the worst ever was going door-to-door raising money for a lobbying group— but that's another story). Also, I'm able to provide a home for my family and a school for my son. Finally, I feel good about my clients and am happy that I can help them. I have yet to work for a sleazy, good-for-nothing client (although I'm sure it will come up some day).

Anyway, just wanted to offer my humble perspective amid all of this doom-and-gloom....



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