Around the Blawgosphere

Phase out court reporters, judge says; How would a 'price point law firm' work?

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Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf of Nebraska sang the praises of digital audio recording as an alternative to court reporters at Hercules and the umpire.

Digital audio recordings can be quickly uploaded for public consumption, Kopf wrote. “By uploading the digital audio recording of a trial or hearing every day to [the Case Management/Electronic Case Files system], the federal courts become more transparent to the public by an order of magnitude. The whole world can listen to a trial I conduct in Nebraska for a very small cost—if I screw up, then the whole world can know it. And, that is a VERY good thing.”

Kopf thinks that phasing out stenographers as they retire and phasing in the use of digital audio recordings will save the courts money without sacrificing accuracy.

Georgia appellate lawyer J. Scott Key noted Kopf’s post at Georgia Criminal Appellate Law Blog and wishes that digital audio recording would catch on in Georgia—fast. “Such a system would change the landscape of appellate practice,” he wrote, because of how quickly transcripts could be uploaded.

“That wait can be a great source of tension between the lawyer in the client,” Key wrote. “It is hard to explain to a client who is languishing in prison that it is not the lawyer’s fault that the court reporter is taking a year or more to type up the proceedings.”

Also, more would get recorded, he says. “Judges order their court reporter to go ‘off the record’ with impunity. When that happens, something bad is going to transpire. Ordering a recording system to be turned off seems more Nixonesque somehow.”

If the price is right …

“Many clients will likely be quite interested” in a law firm that defines itself by its low prices, Toby Brown, director of pricing at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld writes at 3 Geeks and a Law Blog.

How would a “price point law firm” work? New lawyers at such a firm would have salaries starting at around $40,000 per year; the would have a billable base requirement of 1,500 hours; and they would be billed out at $150 or $200 per hour. However, “our firm will spend more money on professional development for these lawyers than traditional firms,” Brown wrote. “And by professional development, I mean actual skills training, with management oversight and hard goals.”

Brown doesn’t know why no one is creating a firm like this. “From an economics perspective, it is absolutely crazy (or more appropriately—stupid) that no one is,” he wrote. “The market is screaming for such a provider. The sad truth is that too many lawyers have become so internally focused that the screams of their clients are not being heard. True—many firms are providing bigger discounts to clients, which is responding at some level. But clients are literally begging for quality legal work at reasonable prices. Absent the [legal process outsourcers] and a few niche firms, no one is listening.”

Law campers

While Above the Law’s Elie Mystal has been critical of pricey summer programs at law schools aimed at undergraduates, he finds one offered by Marquette University Law School refreshing. Why? It’s for 8th, 9th and 10th graders in Milwaukee, and it’s free.

Even if the program has a “nefarious” goal of instilling in these kids a desire to attend Marquette’s Law School one day—which Mystal is not so sure it has—he thinks the good outweighs the bad. “Children, especially by the time they are in high school, are supposed to learn about the legal system,” Mystal wrote. “High school kids should meet judges and lawyers. They should read the Constitution and Supreme Court cases. They should know what a dissent is. These are central concepts to our public life.

“Will some of these kids—these city kids—go to this camp and come back with a fire and passion to become ‘a lawyer’ that never goes out, no matter what you tell them about ‘rational economic self-interest?’ ” Mystal asks. “Sure. But better for it to happen while they’re talking to judges at Marquette than while watching an episode of Suits on the couch.”

Juries and false confessions

The city of Chicago just paid out another $10 million to a man wrongly imprisoned for 25 years largely on the strength of a false confession that followed punches and threats from police officers.

But juries struggle with the notion of a defendant making a false confession, trial consultant Rita Handrich wrote at Jury Room. “A recent civil wrongful conviction suit we worked on was eye-opening for us,” she wrote. “To aid us in understanding mock juror reactions to the case narrative, we completed a comprehensive review of the (voluminous) literature on the topic. It was, in a word, disturbing. And later, as we chewed peanut M&Ms and drank ridiculous amounts of coffee in the darkened observation room while mock jurors deliberated—we heard almost every theme we’d read about in the literature. While we knew, as did the mock jurors, that the man was innocent and bad things had happened during his interrogation—the mock jurors simply couldn’t understand why he would have falsely confessed to a homicide. The idea that he was young, naive, exhausted, terrified, and told it would all stop if he simply admitted he had killed the victim was raised and discarded by many of our mock jurors. Even when told of the exculpating DNA evidence and that the authorities had agreed about his innocence, some still didn’t want to believe it.”

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