Justice in Sequesterland

From a WBUR interview with Miriam Conrad, who heads the federal public defenders office for Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, talking about the impact of sequester cuts at her office, where she may have to cut more than a quarter of their staff in about a month:

The other problem is, even in the cases that we keep, if we don’t have as many investigators and paralegals to help us prepare the case, there are going to be delays. And the longer there are delays the longer people who are held in custody in jail, pending trial, are going to stay in jail at an approximate cost of $2,000 a month. And you’re likely to have cases in which defendants say that their speedy trial rights have been violated, and you’ll see motions to dismiss.

Do these cuts affect prosecutors as well?

No.

Why not?

Well, that’s a great question. You can ask Congress that question. The U.S. attorney’s office this year did not have any furlough days. And, in fact, the Senate Appropriations Committee recently approved an increase of I think it was $79 million for U.S. attorneys offices with the express purpose of bringing more criminal cases in federal court. Of course, the more cases you have, the more lawyers you need on the defense side. And somehow, Congress has not joined the two and has not recognized that actually providing a defense is part of the cost of prosecuting a federal case. (my emphasis)

Can a TFA-Style Program for Lawyers Succeed?

A lawyer version of something like Teach for America is an interesting idea, but it seems to me to be more about addressing the poor employment prospects for graduating law students than about coming up with a long-term solution to the lack of affordable legal services for low- and moderate income people. If the law profession bounces back somewhat (or if the supply of lawyers starts to decline, which is likely), I wonder if enough law school graduates will still find these programs attractive.

Putting aside whatever else you think of Teach for America, if you are a young person interested in a career in education policy, TFA is increasingly becoming a ticket to the cool kids table. Even if you are heading somewhere else in your career post-TFA, there’s a substantial job market value in having TFA experience on  your resume, and I don’t think it’s unfair to say that this is a prime motivator for many of the high achievers coming out college who apply. For something like Lawyers for America or similar programs to succeed long-term, I wonder if they’ll eventually have to build up a similar level of cachet among elites so that even those not considering careers in public interest law or legal services for the poor will see value in the experience. And for those who are considering public interest law or legal services, whether they will actually be able to make a career of it.