Over the past decade, opportunities for new lawyers to argue cases before a jury have gradually disappeared as more clients opt to settle out of court. To help associates gain trial experience, some California firms have begun volunteering junior attorneys to aid local public defenders and district attorneys. In California, programs in the Marin County District Attorney's Office, Los Angeles City Attorney's Office, and the Public Defender's offices in Merced and San Francisco counties give novice associates the chance to grill experts, cross-
examine witnesses, and argue motions - opportunities that can be difficult to come by, particularly at large firms. The participating agencies, in turn, get a hand with their caseloads.
After six years of practice, Matthew A. Richards, an associate with Nixon Peabody, had acted as second chair in only one trial and participated in another. Volunteering at the Marin County DA, he prosecuted five jury trials in just eight weeks.
"Most answers we give as associates are thoroughly researched and edited before they are presented to a client or court," writes Ashley B. Vinson, an Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld senior counsel who also volunteered in Marin County. "But as we become more senior ... the ability to think on one's feet becomes one of the most important skills we need."
Associates in Marin work as deputy DAs, trying DUI cases during an eight-week shift.
"Our entire misdemeanor unit is [made up of] volunteer attorneys," says Barry Borden, the county's chief deputy DA. "They get experience in various aspects of a jury trial. Marin County has experienced major budget cuts, so we depend on these volunteers. It's a symbiotic relationship."