Once again this year, the Professional Responsibilities & Ethics Program (“PREP”) presented a CLE ethics training to the Miami-Dade County Public Defender’s Office. The training was uniquely tailored to address growing legal ethical issues that arise as a result of social media’s heavy infiltration into the criminal law sector. Led by Program Director Jan L. Jacobowitz, students Alexis Alvarez, Alexandra Friz, and Christina Margolles discussed various ethical implications that public defenders and other criminal attorneys face due to technological advances that have proliferated the legal profession. Many of the issues were discussed in the context of using evidence in Facebook and Twitter, jury selection, and attorney blogging.
The training included an overview of trending issues concerning a criminal attorney’s duty to maintain professional competence, guard client confidentiality, and adequately supervise non-attorney staff. The training also addressed the unique constitutional restrictions that attorneys face as officers of the court – a rising concern among attorneys given the popularity of blogging or “blowing.”
In attendance were a notable number of Miami-Dade Public Defenders as well as many other Miami-based private criminal practitioners. The attendees not only provided a lively discussion, but also insight as to how theoretical issues play out in the real-world practice of law. “It was really interesting to compare how the criminal attorneys’ arguments to protect attorneys’ rights to freedom of speech closely mirrored the arguments that were presented in the cases that we read in the course of our research,” said Margolles.
“The attorneys at the presentations gave us examples of how juror misconduct handled in practice does now always follow the utopian model demonstrated in the arising cases,” said Fritz.
The most revealing aspect of the training was how inconsistent and unsettled the law is in the realm of social media and how both attorneys and courts are working to keep up with these fast-paced technological innovations and smooth the inconsistences that arise from social media’s infiltration into law.
“By sharing their own stories, these attorneys allowed us to take a peek into real-life ethical confrontations they have faced, and we may one day face, in the legal field," said Alvarez.
PREP students were gratified to receive thanks from Public Defender, Carlos Martinez, who sent a letter after the presentation, which stated, “I would like to express my gratitude for the training presentation you made to the attorneys of the office. I also want to thank law students, Alexandra Friz, Christina Margolles and Alexis Alvarez for their contribution to the training. The time and expertise you shared will contribute significantly to our effectiveness. The presentation was very favorably received and greatly appreciated.”
PREP is an award-winning program, which develops continuing legal education (CLE) ethics training for the legal community. The program combines the attributes of an ethics institute and an ethics clinic, and has dedicated hundreds of student hours to public service and has educated thousands of members of the Bench & Bar. In 2012, PREP was recognized by the ABA with its E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Award —the leading national award recognizing programs and projects contributing to the understanding and advancement of professionalism among lawyers and judges.