Sentencing Hearings on YouTube: Is This Legal Education?

The Plain Dealer in Cleveland reports that Judge James Kimbler is posting videos of sentencing hearings on

Most people and probably a lot of law students have very little experience with what happens inside of courtrooms. Their experience is mostly taken from Law & Order episodes and these don’t really reflect the reality of law practice.

I have always thought that it makes good sense for law students to spend some time in a courtroom watching a case and pulling the documents from PACER to understand how cases are prosecuted, defended and litigated.

I also think that videos like these might be valuable to the millions of people who represent themselves pro se. The problem is that every case is different and it is difficult (though not impossible) to draw conclusions that are specific to your case. Most lawyers will tell you that it is downright dangerous and that you should get a lawyer to represent you if you are in legal trouble. Despite this, many folks cannot or do not obtain legal representation.

The internet is the great leveler and knowledge, experience and advice about everything is available – even legal advice (though it is illegal or improper to give legal advice unless you are the lawyer reprsenting the client). This does not stop people from telling stories or providing their own experiences.

What these videos need is more context. What was the crime? What was the evidence?

Supposedly, much of this information is public record, but so much of law practice is not in the coutroom or on the record. It’s much more subtle and complex than that.

This is legal education of a sort and the fact that bandwidth and diskspace are practically free means that the next hurdle is to provide relevant context so that the right education happens and so that the problem of ‘a little knowledge is dangerous’ is mitigated for the viewing, pro se public.

Orin Kerr points to a recent article from Professor Erica Hashimota at the University of Georgia available at SSRN from which I offer this intriquing quote…

"…In the study, which is scheduled to be published in the North CarolinaLaw Review, Hashimoto found that pro se felony defendants in statecourts were as likely as defendants with counsel to win completeacquittal. In addition, they were more likely to be convicted of lesseroffenses – misdemeanors rather than felonies, according to Hashimoto’sreview of data, a sample from the National Archive of Criminal JusticeData that covers the country’s 75 largest counties in the even yearsbetween 1990 and 1998…."

What does this say for lawyer representation?

I have said in several presentations that "Everyone is a Lawyer" because our system permits us all to represent ourselves, but it is very difficult to do so because the nature of law and our system make it difficult to do so. Despite this, it appears that many people are succeeding at least as well as lawyers in their own representation.

More to say on this in the future and how it involves CALI.

Comments are closed.