Class In Session For Legal Aid Society's Newest Lawyers



New York City Patch | Class In Session For Legal Aid Society's Newest Lawyers
By Noah Manskar
September 18, 2018

These lawyers may have finished law school, but they're not done learning. Thirty-eight of the Legal Aid Society's newest attorneys started an eight-week training program Monday that will prepare them for the trenches of New York City's criminal justice system.

The legal-services nonprofit's hands-on course aims to get the city's "front line of criminal defense" ready to aid New Yorkers who couldn't otherwise afford a lawyer and spot injustices that can drive change in the city, said Peter Mitchell, Legal Aid's director of criminal defense training.

"They're kind of the eyes and ears and the people who say, 'Wait a minute, I saw this happen, this isn't right and this is what's been going on,'" Mitchell said. "That's how we get to reform efforts."

With nearly 1,200 attorneys and about 750 other staff, Legal Aid is the oldest and largest of the organizations that provide legal help for poor New Yorkers.

The latest class will join about 600 other lawyers in the Criminal Defense Practice. Some 32 of them will represent defendants at arraignments and trials, while the other six will serve parolees in the Parole Revocation Defense Unit.

The group comprises new hires from law schools around the country and some lawyers with a year or so of legal experience, Mitchell said.

Hosted largely at Legal Aid's Lower Manhattan headquarters, the training program involves lectures, workshops, court visits and trips to Legal Aid's other borough offices, Mitchell said. The lawyers will work on an appeal case after five weeks to develop their legal writing skills before picking up cases in their individual trial offices, he said.

The program is unique in that it draws on Legal Aid's specialized practices — such as the Immigration Law Unit, which is among the largest in the nation — to give new attorneys a broad range of knowledge, Mitchell said.

"It's not a series of lectures followed by an exam," he said. "We are constantly doing workshops and discussion sessions to reinforce the material that we're teaching."

Legal Aid has sharpened the program's focus in recent years on race, gender, class and other social-justice issues so trainees can be more sensitive to them, Mitchell said.

It also aims to help the idealistic lawyers put their values into practice as they enter the demanding field, he said.

"It's essential that they have both the knowledge and the kind of emotional courage to do their job," Mitchell said.