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I am not a lawyer nor do I intend to become one. I'm asking in order to understand the justice system.


Lawyers, like any profession, presumably improve their skills through experience as well as theory.

Question

How do new or in-training criminal lawyers customarily gain this experience?

Do they

  1. Typically informally play out a court scenes with peers in imaginary trials

  2. Have mandatory supervised role-playing scenes or simulations of trials

  3. Have optional supervised role-playing scenes or simulations of trials

  4. Learn by attending court in support of a more experienced lawyer

  5. All of the above

  6. Some of the above. If so which?

  7. None of the above


I am interested in English-speaking courts using the judge and jury system as exists in the USA and the UK.

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How do new or in-training criminal lawyers customarily gain this experience?

In the UK, those pursuing a Law degree may choose to involve themselves in mock trials to improve their advocacy. This is entirely optional, and many Law students may never participate in this.

During the professional qualification period (the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) for barristers, or the Legal Practice Course (LPC) for solicitors) which takes place after the Law degree, students will take part in mandatory sessions to improve their advocacy.

For the LPC, these will include mandatory roleplay sessions (assessed by the regulator) with a pretend client where you offer them impromptu legal advice. I can't say it's very realistic, but it does help improve that skill. I understand the BPTC offers similar sessions especially because advocacy is an essential part of a barrister's job, but I have no experience or further knowledge of it.

Of course, once on the job, many lawyers improve their advocacy experience in a variety of settings: whether in police interview rooms with their client, in the magistrate's court (a solicitor would typically deal with that, barristers usually only practice in the higher courts), or the crown court (where criminal barristers can be found).

They will also develop many other skills on the job: either during the one year pupillage for a barrister, or the two-year-long training contract for solicitors. This period of training is required before you can qualify as a lawyer.

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Legal training in the United States incorporates all of these, though not every student will experience each. Some may never experience any.

First, there's mock trial and moot court. In mock trial, multiple schools receive a set of materials providing students with the factual background for a (usually) fictional case. The students use those materials to put together a short, relatively straightforward trial, and then schools compete against each other to see which team has the best presentation. Moot court is basically the same thing, but usually geared toward appellate advocacy, rather than trial work. These are usually extracurricular activities, though many programs require them or award academic credit for them, as well.

There's also clinical education. Students are enrolled in a class where they are paired with a supervising attorney who gives them pieces of a case -- or an entire case -- and puts them to work. The students are typically are the ones responsible for signing the filings and arguing before the court. I'd imagine that clinical education or an equivalent is required at most schools.

Finally, there are externships, where a student will work as a law clerk in a firm, assisting with legal research and writing. In these cases, students will often attend trials, but they are less likely to actually perform an in-court advocacy.

Beyond this, there are more informal and ad hoc offerings. There may be introductory courses or higher-level courses where the professor asks people to practice some component of trial advocacy as part of a lesson. There are also classes specifically geared at developing these skills, where students will essentially get the same training as they would in mock trial, but they would get more direct oversight from their professor and only pair up against students from their class.

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  • Importantly, all of the above are not mandatory. Most law school graduates in the U.S. commencing a first job as a public defender, a prosecutor, a self-employed attorney, or a junior attorney at a law firm that does criminal defense work will have none of these experiences and will have to learn on the job, typically under the modest supervision of a more senior lawyer in the entity for which the lawyer works, or just learning the hard way through self-study and trial and error, if self-employed. There are also continuing legal education classes for lawyers that teach these kinds of skills. – ohwilleke Sep 21 '20 at 21:06
  • I don't think that's correct. Current ABA standards require that law schools require at least six credits in experiential education, i.e., simulation, clinic, or externship. – bdb484 Sep 21 '20 at 23:14
  • Maybe there's something new. Certainly wasn't true when I in law school (class of '94) and I've never heard that this is widely done. – ohwilleke Sep 22 '20 at 4:12
  • ABA is constantly revising them, and pretty much everything outside the T14 markets heavily on ensuring graduates are "practice ready." The relevant standards start at Rule 303(a)(3): americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/… – bdb484 Sep 22 '20 at 12:47

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