A recent Washington Post article detailed the sad tale of attorney, Joseph Rakofsky. D.C. Superior Court judge, William Jackson, declared a mistrial in a murder case this past Friday so that the defendant could fire his lawyer – namely, Joseph Rakofsky. The attorney was a 2009 graduate of the Touro Law School. Among other things, the trial judge was blunt in his assessment of the attorney’s level of expertise stating that he showed “numerous signs” that he “lacked knowledge of proper trial procedure.”
I’ll let others comment on the poor choices, and perhaps unethical behavior, that Rakofsky made in trying to represent his client. It appears that Rakofsky had never tried a case before, much the less a murder case. And it also seems that he tried to get his private investigator to “trick” a witness into changing their story. Perhaps he has watched too much TV. Clearly he had no business taking this case and is probably going to suffer some pretty stiff ramifications for doing so.
But what irks me almost as much is the assertion that his law school bears some brunt of the blame for his bad decisions and unethical behavior. Take a look at one example, namely Elie Mystal’s rant on his blog Above the Law, in which he goes to some length to blame this debacle on Touro Law School admitting Rokofsky and then graduating him. Last I looked, the Multistate Bar Exam was the same whether or not you graduated from Touro, or Catholic, or Harvard. I never understood the argument, often raised by law school students themselves, that a degree from one school was inherently better than a degree from a lower tiered law school. You have bad lawyers graduating from Harvard Law and great lawyers graduating from fourth tier schools. Just like you have bad engineers graduating from M.I.T. and excellent engineers coming out of your local state college. I remember a young graduate from Harvard Law who asked me incredulously if I knew the “star-spangled banner” was the actual name of the national anthem.
Can lower tier law schools do a better job of preparing their students for life after the bar exam? Of course. But as a graduate of one of those lower tier schools who watched while some wrung their hands over their school’s ranking, we all know that the rankings have almost nothing to do with the quality of the attorneys the schools are turning out. There are many things that go into the flawed ranking system, and even a Harvard Law graduate like Mr. Mystal ought to know that one can not link the ranking to the attorney’s competence.