"And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God"
-- Micah 6:8

"The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict."
-- American Bar Association Standard 3-1.2(c)

"There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."
--Pope Benedict XVI, June 2004

Monday, November 20, 2006

The (Law) School of Hard Knocks

The secret to success at being a criminal trial dog? Not what school you attended, but whether:
[you] take [your] job seriously and try to learn new techniques every chance [you] get - [you] go to trial advocacy classes, [you] watch lawyers [you] admire on trial, [you] ask experienced lawyers for advice and [you] actually LISTEN to their advice.

This from Blonde Justice but applicable to any one aspiring to more than mediocrity. Criminal litigation is more than just the nuts and bolts of substantive law and evidence. It's knowing when to shut up, when to not ask a question, how to handle a judge who won't rule correctly, how to gauge a witness and decide if a confrontational approach or a gentle approach is better: is the witness coming off sympathetically to the jury/judge? So many lawyers do not take Blonde Justice's modest road of learning from those who know better than we; some are too arrogant to imagine they need continually to learn and hone their abilities, others are simply interested in scoring rhetorical points to advance whatever agenda they're pushing (usually not the agenda of "what's best for my client?")

For a prosecutor, this "extra-legal" training means assessing a case and determining its true "value." It means assessing the credibility and demeanor of the prosecution's witnesses. It means finding creative ways to tell citizen complainants/victims that there is no crime that is provable in court, or that what happened to them is not a felony carrying penitentiary time, but a misdemeanor that will not result in jail time.

These things are not, and cannot be, taught in law school. They are where the law intersects with common sense, discretion, and good judgment, characteristics which often elude the intellectually brilliant or the stridently ideological, but are surprisingly often found in those of modest intellect.

The legal knowledge to do this job is easily mastered; the intangibles are not.

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