At Illinois Trial Lawyer , Evan Schaeffer shares a wonderfully valuable resource, The Center for Criminal Justice Advocacy. The Center was formed as a free, non-partisan training resource to assist new lawyers in becoming competent criminal practitioners. And one of the Center’s missions is to provide newly licensed sole practitioners with materials to provide a structured analytical approach to planning and conducting a criminal trial. The site is chocked full of resources, including sample opening statements, witness interview forms and even law office management tips for solos setting up a criminal practice.
The CCJA site will help far more solos than those who specialize in criminal work – and in fact, arguably provides a more significant service for those who don’t necessarily seek to focus on criminal work. In my view, whether you want to practice criminal law or not, handling criminal cases on a court appointed basis offers an excellent way for solos to build skills and make some money at the same time. When I started my firm, I was adamant about getting into court so I signed up for DC’s court appointed panel. Within two years, I’d argued several suppression motions and had a couple of bench trials, two jury trials and sentencing hearings. I earned some money (enough to pay rent, at least) and acquired the experience that I’d craved. But I was fortunate: the DC Public Defender’s office offered a two day training program that taught new court appointed lawyers exactly what we needed to do from arraignment through appeals. That course, combined with a $60 handbook on DC Criminal Practice and a couple of days of court-watching gave me enough of a foundation to actually procure pretty good results, considering my lack of experience.
The CCJA site provides much of the background that I received in my DC training course (though of course, the information is more general rather than jurisdiction specific). Nevertheless, with a resource like this, new solos who want to sample criminal work either to make some money or get courtroom experience can do so more readily, while still serving clients with the level of competence they deserve.