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November 03, 2005

Why I don't want to work in a big city

One word: Bureaucracy.

I spent over 4 hours on Tuesday running from office to office, standing in lines and waiting for people to return from random lunch breaks (which sometimes apparently begin at 2:30 p.m.!?), and still I don't feel much closer to where I need to be. The goal was to get a voucher to pay for a transcript of a hearing so I can use that transcript to impeach the cop if he tries to lie. In order to get such a voucher, you have to request authorization and submit your request to the finance office about four blocks from the courthouse. Then, sometime later (maybe a day, maybe two, maybe a week), you have to go to the courthouse and see if your voucher has been issued. If it the office that is supposed to have the voucher doesn't have it, you have no recourse; there is no way to check on whether it's still being processed, whether it was lost, whatever. Your best bet is to start over and come back in another day or two or week and hope it worked the second time. I've now been through this process twice and it looks like I'm going to have to try again.

Bureaucracy, I tell ya....

Oh, if the process ever works, once I get the voucher I have to fill it out and ask the judge to approve it. If the judge approves the expense, I have to then take the voucher to the court reporter and ask them to produce a transcript. Theoretically this shouldn't be a very big deal, but you can see the hoops defense attorneys have to jump through to provide quality representation to their clients.

Anyway, my experience has been that a smaller jurisdiction simply has fewer layers of bureaucracy. Where in D.C. this process requires visiting no less than four offices in two different buildings, the process in a smaller jurisdiction would probably require visiting two offices in the same building. Or maybe not. But the advantage in the smaller jurisdiction is that the people you interact with in this process are less likely to be burned out and overwhelmed because of the sheer mass of humanity that passes through their door each day. You might know their names and they might know yours, and instead of just wanting to get rid of you maybe, just maybe, they'll want to see if they can help you do what you need to do.

In short, my experience has been that smaller jurisdictions are more human, more friendly, and just easier for me to negotiate. I'm sure mileage varies on things like this.

I got a chance to talk a bit w/a friend who worked at PDS last summer and who also worked with me in a smaller public defender's office in the area during our 1L summer. She said PDS is just amazing in terms of the resources it has to defend its clients. For example, whereas in our smaller jurisdiction we always had to battle with the judge to get funds for an expert witness for the defense, at PDS it seems that cost is no object—if they want an expert, they get one and that's that. Each attorney has an investigator and a couple of students to help out with things at all times so the attorneys don't have to mess with investigation or busywork and have more time to prepare for trial. They are “trial machines,” my friend said. And since the prosecutors here never make reasonable plea offers, PDS takes everything to trial. And it wins because it did the work to find every little crack in the government's case and every little fact or bit of evidence that could help its clients. In short, the DC PDS is probably one of the best criminal defense firms in the country.

But you know what? I still don't really want to work there. Ok, PDS wouldn't hire me, so it's not like it's an option, but still, I don't want that kind of pressure, nor do I want to try to plug myself in as a cog in such a huge machine, regardless of how well-oiled it might be. I'm sure the PDS attorneys never have to spend 4 hours running from office to office trying to get a transcript voucher so that would certainly make it better, but still...

So where am I going to work? I don't know. I don't even know where I'm going to sit for the Bar. But I do know that, if at all possible, I will seek out a job in a smaller public defender office in a smaller jurisdiction, maybe something with a dozen attorneys or less. I just think that's the sort of place where I'm going to find a better fit.

Anyway, if anyone's keeping track, my client didn't show up today so I wasn't able to make my arguments about the unconstitutionality of the bail-jumping statute. On closer inspection and thanks in no small part to “Jack” of Gideon's Guardians and his helpful tip, I decided that arguing that the statute was unconstitutional was probably less wise than just arguing that the presumption of willfulness is a very weak presumption that can be rebutted by almost any small amount of evidence showing lack of willfulness—evidence that we just happen to have in this case, I think. I'm sure my client will get picked up again soon and I'll have a chance to try this all out and see how it goes.

Posted November 3, 2005 09:52 PM | 3L crimlaw

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Methinks bureaucracy exists everywhere. I can't speak to the legal sort, but having been a local official in a small town, I can say that even the smallest of towns have hoops to jump through. Plus, you have to deal with the whole problem of being an outsider, which is a whole other problem.

Posted by: justin at November 5, 2005 03:48 PM

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