Solo Practitioners Don’t Have A Jackie Frankfurt

by Jamison Koehler on March 26, 2015

We had a tremendous support network at the public defender’s office in Philadelphia. There were social workers and mental health professionals. There were administrative staff focusing on probation, parole, and the expungement of criminal records. If you had a question about a particular point of law or opinion, there was a whole group of appellate lawyers at your disposal. And if there was ever a new development in the law, we were all provided with a handy-dandy fact sheet with tips on how to incorporate this new development into your practice. I remember the “paid lawyers” looking at me enviously every time I pulled out something like that in the courtroom.

The lack of this support network is, I have found, one of the greatest challenges to solo practitioners doing criminal defense:  We are out there all alone.  At least that’s the way it can sometimes feel.

In some respects, this is liberating.  My first career was with the federal government.  You couldn’t lift a finger there without “clearing” everything with a million other people first.

In most other respects, however, you are at a tremendous disadvantage.  So too is your client.  If there are four lawyers listed on the government’s response to an appeal and multiple supervisors in their chain of review, I have trouble getting one read of a brief I have written.  I can usually get my wife to take a look.  And my colleague Margaret Cassidy is my go-to-person for many questions as we both figure these things out together. But Margaret and my wife are busy with their own work.  I can only impose so often.

Fortunately, there is D.C.’s Public Defender Service (PDS).  Unlike the public defender’s office in Philadelphia, which had what I can only describe as an uneasy relationship with the private defense bar, PDS views as part of its mission the leveraging of its talents on behalf of the city’s indigent defendants.  And, of course, when you are talking appeals, you are talking about the deputy chief of the PDS appellate unit, Jaclyn Frankfurt.

Although I know her name from reading years of cases, I have not actually met Jackie in person.  I wouldn’t recognize her if I came across her on the street.  But she is pleasant and responsive on the phone.  She knows her stuff, of course.  She is committed in that non-sanctimonious way PDS lawyers seem to have mastered.  (This is different than the smug, world-weary, “I-am-more-committed-than-you” attitude that seems to afflict so many public interest lawyers.) And she is encouraging.  “Good luck,” she says me at the conclusion of an email correspondence with respect to my latest appeal.  “I look forward to broadcasting your victory on the PDS blog.”

Jackie has heard the facts of this particular case.  I am thinking she must be somewhat of an optimist.

More Like This:

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A Public Defender Just Doing His Job

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6 Comments on “Solo Practitioners Don’t Have A Jackie Frankfurt

  1. Hi Jamison – It is a pleasure working with you and I am happy to assist! Thanks for the mention. I am going to share this post with my husband (a lawyer) so I can prevail upon him to read my briefs. 🙂 Also, thanks for writing your blog and sharing your thoughts. Margaret

  2. Margaret: Who knew that you actually read this blog? Next time I will have to be more circumspect about what I say. 😉

  3. I’m a PD. I’m not sure why a PD office would have an uneasy relationship with the private bar, but then again I have no idea about Philly politics, either.

    Our state defense bar is rather close-knit for the most part, and nobody cares who works where so long as the clients get the best they can get. Yes, there are some idiots, but everybody knows who they are. We all understand that it’s us against the world. If you need help, you get it. If you’re asked for help, you give it. I can’t imagine practicing in any other type of environment.

  4. Thank you. Sometimes I feel like posting something, sometimes I don’t.

    I read your link and I now remember it from when you posted it. I can sort of understand where you’re coming from about private lawyers dumping cases, since that kind of thing does happen here. But people just deal with it as part of the way the world works and go to work fixing the other lawyer’s screw-ups. It’s not really that hard since they tend to be the same kind of screw-up over and over. Once you’ve learned how to fix one, you know what to do to fix them all.

    As for private lawyers taking over a case from me, well, that’s one less I have to worry about. The guys who are willing to do that are generally the good lawyers, too, so there’s not really much of a worry about a bad client outcome.

    I feel pretty happy to be in the environment I’m in.

  5. Great post! I definitely agree with your sentiment that you can’t even lift a finger when public defending without getting permission… in triplicate. That at the very least makes a lot of the challenges of a solo practice worth this. Thanks for sharing your insight!

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