ERIE COUNTY BAR ASSOCIATION AID TO INDIGENT PRISONERS SOCIETY INC.
PROGRAM FOR MENTORING PANEL ATTORNEYS
The Erie County Bar Association Aid to Indigent Prisoner’s Society Inc., has established a Mentorship program where less experienced panel attorneys are linked with panel attorneys possessing a wealth of knowledge and experience in the practice of criminal law. Once linked, the Mentor attorney follows a set curriculum to guide the new attorney through a process that provides the new attorney with the knowledge and skills to represent clients navigating the criminal justice system. The program allows the younger attorney the opportunity to progress from representing clients on minor offenses to conducting jury trials on serious violent felonies including the most serious of crimes handled by criminal attorneys. Mentorship programs such as this have been found to be invaluable in providing quality representation to indigent defendants across the nation.
In August of 2019 a formal Mentoring Program was established at the Erie County Assigned Counsel Program. The Deputy Administrator for Quality Assurance established and oversees the day to day operation of the program. Initially six experienced panel attorneys were selected to mentor and guide less experienced attorneys. In the beginning each of the mentors were assigned five or six panel attorneys to work with. The mentors are paid for their time and are expected to devote a significant amount of time to each mentee.
The program was launched with a group orientation of the selected mentors where they were introduced to the program and its requirements. The mentors were each assigned five or six less experienced attorneys selected by the Deputy Administrator to participate in the program including the entire class of new trainees. After the group orientation, the mentors were tasked with contacting their assigned mentees and meeting with them individually or as a group. Because of our Indigent Legal Services (ILS) guidelines and funding restrictions, the mentoring project is only to be utilized in guiding your mentees through criminal defense practice. Each mentor is to be guided by the following curriculum menu, each item of which has a specific learning objective:
Set goals and expectations for the mentoring relationship. Establish lines of communication between the mentor and the mentees including, where appropriate, personal meetings, email, letters, phone calls, texting, etc.;
Help them understand how to handle difficult ethical situations that arise in criminal defense practice. Include how to respond to complaints and grievances;
Assist them in becoming familiar with local court personnel and practices. Attend court sessions in Justice Courts, County and Supreme Courts with each mentee on a regular basis;
Introduce sound practices necessary to sustain an ethical and successful private criminal defense practice that serves both assigned and retained clients. The solo practitioner is the most common form of practice for criminal defense lawyers on our panel;
Instruct on best practices for communicating with clients and involving clients in decision making. Attend client interviews in both the office setting and in jail. Stress how important communication is in maintaining a good attorney client relationship;
Develop skills for conducting an initial interview and advocating for a client’s pretrial release. Mentees must become familiar with the forms of bail, CPL 180.80 and CPL 170.70;
Address how to develop a theme/theory of the case that will be effective in plea negotiations or trial;
Develop skills in conducting investigations and discovery. Encourage mentees to use the new inhouse investigators;
Encourage the effective use of common pretrial motions. It is necessary to know when to file and how to draft such motions. Share, where appropriate, sample motions; review mentee’s motions before submission;
Show how to negotiate a plea and counsel a client about a plea offer. Advise about the District Attorney’s plea policies;
Help to develop skills in preparing for and conducting trials both jury and non-jury; Counsel on waiving a jury especially in Justice Courts;
Explain the role of defense counsel at sentencing and their post-trial (plea) obligations to the client. Emphasize the role of the attorney in helping to craft the presentence report through probation and the Assigned Counsel’s new Mitigation Specialist. The obligation to file a Notice of Appeal and move for the assignment of Appellate Counsel should be stressed;
The mentoring program is intended to supplement and follow the extensive training program provided by the Assigned Counsel Program that each mentee will have completed prior to being admitted to the mentoring program. Each mentor will be required to keep track of their time and voucher monthly. It is envisioned that each mentor will report, quarterly or more frequently if deemed necessary, to the Deputy Administrator of the progress with respect to each mentee. Any concerns or issues that arise with the program should be immediately brought to the attention of the Deputy Administrator. Eventually each mentee will reach the point where frequent and structured contact will no longer be necessary, however, experience has taught us that mentoring can last for an entire career.
Lori A. Hoffman, Esq.
Deputy Administrator for Quality Assurance
Erie County Bar Association
Aid to Indigent Prisoners Society, Inc.
403 Main Street, Suite 215, Buffalo, New York 14203
856-8804 Ext. 227