Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wall of Shame: Touro's Pride and Joy...Mistrial, Yay!

I'm sure you all have read the story over on JJD's blog about Joseph Rakofsky, the newbie lawyer that managed to have a mistrial declared in a murder trial solely because of his inexperience.  If you haven't, here's the story and I have to add to it:

A Washington, D.C., judge declared a mistrial in a murder case on Friday, saying he was “astonished” at the performance of the defense lawyer who confessed to jurors he’d never tried a case before.
Judge William Jackson said lawyer Joseph Rakofsky did not have a good grasp of legal procedures, citing as an example the attorney’s rambling opening statement in which he told of his inexperience, the Washington Post reports. Rakofsky graduated from Touro law school in 2009 and obtained a law license in New Jersey less than a year ago, the story says.
Rakofsky had repeated disagreements with his local D.C. counsel, causing his client, Dontrell Deaner, to become “visibly frustrated,” the Post says. On Friday, Deaner told the judge he wanted a new lawyer.
The judge declared a mistrial after reviewing a court filing in which an investigator had claimed Rakofsky fired him for refusing to carry out the lawyer's emailed suggestion to "trick" a witness, the story says. Rakofsky's suggestion allegedly read: “Thank you for your help. Please trick the old lady to say that she did not see the shooting or provide information to the lawyers about the shooting.”
Afterward, Rakofsky refused to comment and rushed out of the courthouse, the story says.
I often find that the comments are more interesting than the story itself.  Even here on BIDER, I find your comments to be the highlight of my day.  On this particular story, an interesting comment was made by someone about Mr. Rakofsky:

Clarence Smith Apr 6, 2011 7:40 AM CDT
Rakofszki was never fired. He requested that he be relieved because of a conflict between his client and him. The judge removed him because he asked to be removed; it was Rakofszky’s request. Have you ever, even one time, read the transcript?
Conflict is completely different from and has nothing to do with “incompetence,” but none of the “reporters” have lifted a finger to read the transcript. After the judge removed him, he criticized Rakofszki (but never accused him of being incompetent). Anybody who was actually in the courtroom on Friday already knows this—the Judge was very clear about this.
I doubt that supposed email (and the quotation in it) exists. If the Post was willing to quote Rakofszki, why did they not print the supposed email? Is it possible that Rakofszki does have a lot of experience? Is it possible that he was telling the truth?
Some of you are truly awful. If you at least read the transcript, no one could fault you; but, instead, you glibly accepted what the Post said and ran with it. I was there on Friday and there is no way the Post reporter was even in the courtroom at the time the Judge was addressing Rakofszki. What the Post wrote and what actually happened are 2 different things. That kid has been catapulted into this, what is undoubtedly a terrible event for him and his whole family, and none of that which has been reported about him (which is said to have occurred on Friday) actually happened.
Could this be Mr. Rakofsky commenting on the story himself?  I didn't think of this on my own, but another comment called attention to the ludicrous misspelling of the dude's last name.  Could he be more obvious?
I really feel for the kid.  I made a comment on the story, something along the lines of ... silly him to think that going to law school would qualify him to be a lawyer.  Someone took my comment a little too seriously and asked if I was an attorney for thinking something so naive.  I am sure my readers know what I meant.
Maybe he's a narcissist.  Maybe he's overly confident.  Maybe he's misguided to consider this a win (someone who commented on the story had a looksie at this Facebook page where he declared this a win.  But isn't it though, in a way?).  The readers were ruthless in tearing him a new one.  I don't blame him for piping up.  His legal career is pretty much over before it began.  I have to pity him.
But no story or comment trail is complete without a troll.  The latest comment comes from a Tuoro student herself:
Mr, Rakovsky does not fairly represent Touro Law Center—and his behavior maligns the dedicated faculty and the many hard-working and high achieving students that Touro has educated over the years.  Touro Students work as Judicial Interns for the Federal Judges of the Eastern District Of New York as well as State Supreme Court Justices,  Our Vis Moot Team has consistently won honors in interntional competition, Touro Alumni serve honorably and competently in the NY State Judiciary and the Assembly.  My professors always stressed the importance of professional ethics,  I had the privilege of learning from professors who trained at Harvard and Yale.  I was fortunate to take part in Touro’s Collaborative Courts program which gave experience in arguing before federal judges.  I know better than to take on a case I am not qualified to handle.  Jackasses can be found at EVERY law school, but don’t malign a school because of ONE individual.  I remember Mr, Rakovsky.  He had many of the same professors I did so I dont know why he didnt learn the same things I did about professional responsibility and the duty of competence,
Did they teach you grammar and spelling at Touro as well?  I will quit maligning a law school for the acts of one student when law schools stop admitting people that aren't qualified or mature enough to be attorneys.  If every law school is allowed one "nut" a year without an impact on its reputation, that's 200+ crazy attorneys fucking up people's lives royal--yearly.  That's way too many nuts.  If we cherish our profession and our collective reputation, law schools need to become more selective with who they admit and who they allow to graduate.  


  1. But does Mr. Rakofsky not, in fact, represent the very MODEL of lawyering the ABA and our many shill friends espouse?

    That is, if you can't get hired, can't get mentored, can't get clinical experiences in a supervised fashion--why, PULL YOURSELF UP BY YOUR OWN BOOTSTRAPS.


    Isn't that, in fact, what Mr. Rakofsky was trying to do? Pull himself up by taking on cases and "toughing it out" rather than looking for "handouts" (i.e., training) and someone to "show him how to do everything." Or "whining" that no one trained you. Isn't, in fact, Mr. Rakofsky the POSTER BOY for the ABA model of pumping fresh JD's out onto the streets so that the community will have "available" legal services for all??? After all, you have to START SOMEWHERE. We can't all start out at the top, you know.

    Shills/apologists and law school industrial complex cheerleaders--the floor is yours:

  2. For what it's worth, I do think that the poor kid thought he scored the case of a lifetime. I know 40 y.o. criminal attorneys that would die for a murder case and this bastard scores one... how many attorneys could he have turned to for guidance on how to try a case. Putting his flagrant ethical violation aside, I don't know ANYONE that has murder trial experience. He probably thought that he'd wing it--not realizing that 99% of murder cases end in a plea. And with the debt load that Touro burdens you with, who the hell was he to say NO to big money. I think he's unstable, and a dope, but I wish he was armed with the proper skills to do a somewhat decent job.

  3. I know lawyers who handle murder cases. None of them handled a murder case during their first year of practice.

    There is no way a first year lawyer-I do not care where the lawyer went to school-is prepared for a high profile jury trial. Hell, my first bench trial was against a lawyer who had practiced for almost two decade and had never tried a case.

    The trial bar has been a mess for almost 100 years. These days civil trials are so rare I expect things to get even worse.

    I am surprised that the local counsel stayed on board. The young lawyer was like all young lawyers I have known, they simply do not know what they do not know.

  4. Holy crap!

  5. The law school is of very poor quality. Having said that, law schools teach very little about how to actually practice law. Professors have their heads so far up their ass with stuff that does not matter. Then you get thrown out to make a living, but you don't know how to do anything. After passing the bar you are allowed to attempt any legal endeavor with the caveat if you mess up you could be sued and be disciplined by the Bar. So many lawyers wing it, fake it till you make it, because even if you don't know what you are doing at least you know more than your client, and there is a good chance no one will catch on. It is wrong.

    Law school should be like dental school. Ever hear of dentist graduating without doing a filling or a root canal? I don't care what area of law you do, every law graduate should have one will, one divorce, one real estate closing, one bankruptcy, one personal injury case, one trial, and so on under their belt before they graduate. Oh, but if law schools did that they would not be able to have 150 person class sizes and make the outrageous profits teaching the same crap year after year. Professors would actually have to know how to practice law, instead of writing some lame article on some useless, esoteric area of the law.

  6. That's a funny cartoon!

    I had a Criminal Law class in my first semester as a IL at Touro, and the Professor (Benson) was cute and bumbling with a crooked tie and glasses, but he didn't teach a damn thing. That is not a defamatory statement because it is an absolutely True story.

    If you wanted to learn the course, you had to either get hold of an outline, or buy supplemental materials in the bookstore and hope you read the right ones.

    I read the Emmanuals (spelling) quite often.

    A few years later, when I finally made it to the Bar Review course for the NY Bar Exam, I found I was literally learning Criminal Law for the very first time (as well as Contracts.

    Lots of information to try to take in. Too much.

    I remember a full Criminal Law and Procedure essay on the NY Bar exam, and not knowing what to write.

    I only hope that more real clients in the real world are not being harmed by all this.

    Not all the courses were taught badly, but Touro obviously, when I went there, had no quality control or monitoring procedures in place.

    The tenured faculty that pretty much founded the school seemed like they could do whatever they pleased. And if they didn't want to teach...they didn't teach.

    Touro will of course disown Rakofsky.

    But much to the chagrin of Frankenstein, so did his creator.

  7. "After all, you have to START SOMEWHERE. We can't all start out at the top, you know."

    Actually, he apparently did try and start out at the top. He took a murder case as his first trial (the Post reported this). If that is try, he is absolutely NOT a victim of anything, and despite whatever really happened at the trial, he was asking for trouble taking on a murder trial without any experience.

    I'm currently volunteering in criminal law and learning the ropes, doing arraignments and pleadings that are on for criminal calendar. I'm trying to transition this into a paying job, whether it be for the DA/PD or another lawyer, or on my own. But I can guarantee you one, I WON'T be trying a murder case as my first trial.

  8. TTTTouro College Law CenTTTTer is a disgrace and a joke. Of course, the pigs will disown this kid, i.e. "We trained him, but we bear no responsiblity for his unethical, egregious actions."

    Someone should rip this toilet from the floor and toss it in a landfill.

  9. Gawd you should see the alumni mag. Yikes

  10. April 7, 2011 5:18 PM :

    I'm pleased that you had both the opportunity to volunteer and the financial wherewithal to do so. Probably not possible for most of us, nor financially feasible.

  11. "But I can guarantee you one, I WON'T be trying a murder case as my first trial.

    April 7, 2011 5:18 PM"

    My only question is: how do you get past doing your first murder trial without doing a murder trial?

    How does a dentist get the doing of his first root canal out of the way--without doing his first root canal? Volunteering to do pleadings and arraignments is not the equivalent of volunteering to do murder trials nor is it equivalent experience to necessarily prepare you for such.

    The examples you give of your volunteer experiences, though laudable, are irrelevant.

  12. Why is Rakofsky "starting out at the top" by taking a murder trial on? Isn't he a licensed attorney? Are there some additional board certifications he is missing, like in real professions? How was he "starting out at the top" by taking on a case he is licensed to take on? I don't get it. What specialty certification is he lacking? Is there a formal residency or internship required in that particular jurisdiction aimed at qualifying a subset of "murder case attorneys"?

  13. 8:12 and 8:22- Mr. Rakofsky should have gotten trial experience doing something smaller, where the stakes aren't as high as they are in a murder trial. I.e. DWI, a lower level felony, heck he could even get experience in an administrative law proceeding.

    If I could use an analogy, a pitching prospect for Major League Baseball team starts off in the minor leagues, the team won't start him in a World Series game until he has enough experience and is developed enough to do so. Even though in baseball, like the law, any player is allowed to play in a game of such magnitude, but they shouldn't and don't "start out at the top."

    I believe Mr. Rakofsky just wanted to to make a name for himself taking on a high profile case early in his career. You could observe his hubris on his website (actually it was taken down today) and his "first degree murder...MISTRIAL!" post on his facebook page immediately after the trial.

    Plain an simple, no lawyer should try a murder case as there first trial. There are ample opportunities to get trial experience. It's not the school's fault, it's not the system's fault, it's solely Mr. Rakofsky's fault.

  14. All good points.

    So I guess my next question is, then, if lawyer licensing is nothing more than a "training wheels" type thing--where is the "minor leagues" of law for solos starting out? The baseball example is a very poor one--because we are talking about a TEAM, an actual ORGANIZATION. Coaches, managers, veteran players teaching "the kids". Where is that for solo attorneys fresh out of school, who cannot get hired by anyone?

  15. 9:24 says:

    "So I guess my next question is, then, if lawyer licensing is nothing more than a "training wheels" type thing--where is the "minor leagues" of law for solos starting out?"

    You pull yourself up by the bootstaps. Join listservs and start asking very basic questions about the law.

    Your goal is to figure out what is going on before you are disbarred for multiple cases of malpractice and/or become homeless.

    You have 12 months! Go!

  16. 9:24- It's really not that hard. Just don't take a murder case as your first trial, especially if you have less than a year's experiences.

    Young starting solos can seek out mentors from the local bar association, try and get on assigned counsel list, do DWI cases, etc. There are ample opportunities for a lawyer starting out to get experience, or hook up with an old lawyer for advice. No solo is an island.

    Had Mr. Rakofsky done any of the above, he would have realized he was doing the wrong thing in taking the murder trial. Sure he needed money, but now his solo career is basically ruined. Anytime a potential client Googles his name, this fiasco is going to come up at the top.

  17. I recommend that young solos who want to learn criminal law do the following:

    1. Go to the law library and read the CLEs on Criminal Law. If you have money, buy them. Study them and master them like you did an undergraduate text book. This is nothing like Socratic casebook bullshit.
    2. Start by taking, misdemeanors, DUI/DWIs and domestic battery cases.
    3. Sit in the courtrooms where these cases are handled for a few hours each morning, for a few days. There isn’t much pleading practice in criminal law. It’s all in the open for you to watch and learn.
    4. Find an experienced lawyer and share the cases with him or her until you get comfortable. A 50/50 fee split is reasonable. After a while, try to rent an office in a space where other lawyers rent so that you become friends and they can mentor you.
    5. After you get the hang of it, move up to smaller felonies, then larger felonies, and eventually murder cases. But when you feel uncomfortable, co-counsel it with a more experience attorney and just take your third and then second chair the case. (Conventional referral fees in law are 1/3). After a while you can move to related areas like divorce, personal injury, bankruptcy, immigration, real estate and the like.

    Rakofsky’s mistake was that he got greedy. He should have taken the case and then found a good experienced lawyer to refer it to. Rakofsky should’ve kept a third for himself and then simply taken ordes from the first chair. In the unlikely case that it went to trial, as second chair, Rakofsky could have asked some minor questions of an inconsequential witness; but he would’ve had a chance to see the whole thing and to have murder bragging rights.

    I’ve been out 12 years, and I have absolutely no shame co-counseling cases that I’m not comfortable with. I also have no shame taking money from other lawyers to help them on their cases. Nobody knows everything; but you’ve got to know your limitations.

    To paraphrase Rumsfeld, the problem of young lawyers is that they don’t know what they don’t know.

  18. Why does everyone keep referring to this grown man as a "kid"?

  19. Supreme Court is the highest institute that does conduct trials between the victims and suspects. In the past era they respect the Supreme Court but today it seems that some of people they don't value it anymore. It is because of the unfair justice that the public is experiencing today.

  20. Touro Law's pride and joy would actually be current Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, and current Suffolk County Attorney Christine Malafi. You would probably respond by saying that you cannot judge a law school based on the careers of a few. And I would say that you are correct.

  21. There's a transcript? Already? Didn't this just happen? I've never known a transcript to be ready immediately after a trial.



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