Solo Practitioners Don’t Have A Jackie Frankfurt

Jamison KoehlerAppellate Practice, D.C. Superior Court, Law Practice

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.

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