I have just been appointed to the D.C. Superior Court panel for adult court-appointed cases. I was one of three lawyers appointed on a “provisional” basis. (Three other lawyers were promoted from the provisional panel to the full panel.) Those of us on the provisional panel need to serve a two-year probationary period before we can start doing felonies.
To date, I have done only court-appointed work on juvenile cases and criminal appeals. Although this work represents only a small percentage of my firm’s revenue, it is far more gratifying than my retained work. Most of my paid clients are first-time offenders. A diversion program is usually a good outcome for them. But it is not all that exciting as a lawyer.
The court-appointed work, by contrast, is where I develop as a lawyer. Many of the juveniles are charged with more serious crimes. And, without a “trial tax” for juveniles, there is usually no downside to taking a case to trial. It is also extremely rewarding to work with children. They listen to your advice. You feel as though you can make a difference. And sometimes you might even be right.
The appellate work is also a good experience. It doesn’t matter how often you work on a particular issue: You will never know it as well as you will after you have read every relevant opinion written on the subject, rolled it around in your mind for a while, and then briefed it. And it is very gratifying to see your name on a successful appeal: I am proud, for example, that I will be forever linked to D.C. case law related to constructive possession, the Confrontation Clause, and the Jencks Act.
But, alas, with the new Attorney General’s emphasis on diversion programs for children in trouble, the juvenile work has been drying up lately. You can spend an entire day hanging out in JM-15 without picking up a new case. And I have been drawing mostly minor misdemeanor appeals recently.
Besides, I am ready for a new challenge. As my investigator Wayne puts it, it is time for us to join the big leagues. The stakes are far higher there even when the issues are pretty much the same.