For more than 40 years, associates at Dorsey & Whitney helped the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office prosecute misdemeanor cases. Each year, a handful of the firm’s litigation associates would spend 14 weeks working with prosecutors and gaining hands-on courtroom experience.
As of press time, no other firm had indicated that it intends to rethink its relationship with prosecutors in its local jurisdiction. They should, says Craig Futterman, a law professor at the University of Chicago and the director of the civil rights and police accountability project at the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic.
The partnerships between law firms and prosecutors appear to be born out of mutual benefit: Law firms are constantly hungry for ways to bolster the experience of their young associates, and prosecutors only have so much money to take on a never-ending case load.
Cozen O’Connor’s secondment program with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office began in 2009, when the city’s prosecutors reached out to several law firms for help after the office implemented a hiring freeze, says Vincent McGuinness, Jr., the firm’s managing partner.
In May 2018, Philadelphia prosecutors declined to retry Patterson and withdrew all charges against him. McGuinness says that while he believes the secondment program led the district attorney to recognize the quality of the Cozen O’Connor attorneys representing Patterson, it didn’t affect how the firm approached the case, and he doesn’t anticipate any conflicts to come from the firm’s dual roles.
Legal aid clinics like Futterman’s also benefit from relationships with law firms, in which partners and associates can donate hundreds of hours of work on a particular case. Law students, who play an active role in the clinic, get an introduction to the firm, while the firm gets to work on “significant pro bono work that can make a meaningful impact,” Futterman says.
Now that it’s no longer partnered with the city attorney, Dorsey is considering working with the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office and expanding its involvement with a program that provides legal representation to pro se litigants in federal court, Stoeri says.