Training in the Criminal Practice

Training in the Criminal Defense Practice is a vital, on-going enterprise, beginning the first day the new lawyer begins her/his career at The Legal Aid Society. The Criminal Defense Practice training, which serves as a national model for new attorney training and client centered representation, was featured at the Brennan Center's Annual Community-Oriented Defense Network Conference.

New lawyers undergo an intensive five to six week training which focuses on client-centered representation, substantive and procedural law, investigation, and the litigation skills necessary for practice in Criminal Court. They absorb wide-ranging materials through presentations and demonstrations by expert faculty, many small group workshops, simulations, and constructive critique.

Built into new attorney training is exposure to ex-clients from the Fortune Society, shadowing their counterparts in Civil Courts, Family Court, and their own Criminal Courts. Following their initial boot camp, they receive intensive supervision and training in their borough offices, followed by several return visits with their “class” for more central office training. Central training includes intensive work on evidence, trial skills, a new three-day litigating-a-suppression hearing program, and a five-day Trial Advocacy Program, which is followed by a mock trial in a real courtroom. As new attorneys become more seasoned and gain hearing and trial experience, they become certified to handle lower-level felonies in Supreme Court. Their felony training equips them with the skills to handle felonies.


Training Attorneys On The Hidden Collateral Consequences Of Criminal Adjudications

The Criminal Practice has long recognized that criminal convictions inexorably lead to varied and severe collateral consequences. In recent times, these consequences – spanning areas including immigration, housing, employment, public benefits, education and family law – have grown even more draconian and inflexible. Indeed, the United States Supreme Court, in Padilla v. Kentucky, held that a lawyer, to be effective, must provide proper advice on the immigration consequences of a criminal conviction because incorrect advice can have such catastrophic effects. Undoubtedly, in many cases, the consequence of a conviction can be as prejudicial to the client as the conviction itself. The Criminal Practice has been in the vanguard of providing representation that takes account of the full impact of a criminal conviction.

The ability to provide wide-ranging representation begins with a solid training foundation. As collateral consequences have become more onerous and omnipresent, exhaustive focus on these consequences became a critical component of both initial and continuing Criminal Practice training. Thus, as part of initial training, the Society’s Civil Practice and Juvenile Rights Practice trainers take new attorneys to the Housing, Immigration, and Family Courts and provide concrete guidance on civil law issues that overlap with criminal practice. There are separate sessions on immigration, parole and probation, housing, employment, health, disability, Family Court, sex offender registration and civil commitment, and sealing.

The Criminal Practice took the unprecedented step of providing every one of its trial attorneys with a full day of training in how to deal with the enormous consequences of Padilla v. Kentucky. Five full day programs, sponsored by the Civil Practice’s nationally-known Immigration Unit, were held at law schools, colleges, and large law firms in New York.


On-Going Criminal Practice Attorney Training

The Criminal Practice takes full advantage of the unparalleled expertise it has in many practice areas: the Adolescent Intervention and Diversion Unit, the Human Trafficking Project, the Parole Revocation Defense Unit, several social work programs (MICA, MAP), the Criminal Appeals Bureau, and the Special Litigation Unit, which has experts in many areas. Representatives of these units routinely visit each of the trial offices for “lunch and the law” programs as new practice advisories or legal developments emerge.


Uniqueness Of The Legal Aid Society

Training of Criminal Practice attorneys is supplemented with access to experts in the Civil Practice available to consult with, team with, or provide referrals to attorneys at the Society across a broad array of practice areas. The Society’s Civil Practice is the preeminent legal service provider of immigration-related legal assistance in New York City, with special expertise on the impact of criminal convictions on immigration status. Recognizing the growing intersection between criminal and immigration law and Congress' expansive definition of what constitutes a “conviction” in the immigration context, the Society has, since 2003, assigned experienced criminal/immigration attorney specialists to the Civil Practice’s Immigration Unit to provide regular immigration training, advice and consultation to attorneys in the Criminal Practice. This resource is also available and frequently utilized by non-Legal Aid defense attorneys throughout the City. These specialists devote the vast majority of their time advising defense attorneys and their clients of the immigration consequences of criminal case dispositions and guiding criminal defense attorneys to find alternative dispositions to maintain an immigrant client's right to remain in the United States, including making motions to set aside unlawful sentences that have excessive immigration consequences. They ride circuit among the Society’s Criminal Practice offices, and are available by telephone at all times to respond to issues that arise in court.