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Washington-James Barney looked a little nervous, and you could hardly blame him. Standing in Room 311 in District of Columbia Superior Court, he was about to question his first witness in a case where his client faced life in prison. It was Barney’s first murder trial. In fact, it was his first criminal trial. Actually, it was practically his first trial of any kind. James Barney is a patent attorney. What’s a 37-year-old IP lawyer doing cutting his trial teeth on a major murder case? It’s part of an innovative pro bono program run by Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner designed to give its young patent litigators courtroom experience. Headed by Mary Kennedy, a former public defender with two decades of criminal experience, the program represents defendants accused of everything from shoplifting to first-degree murder. Despite their inexperience, the young patent lawyers have racked up a pretty impressive track record during the past four years. To date, not a single murder defendant represented by the Washington firm has been convicted on the most serious charge. Barney is determined that his client, Antonio Clark, won’t be the first. Crash trial course Finnegan’s Litigation Mentor Program began four years ago, the brainchild of a group of partners who wanted to get their young lawyers into court more often. Patent litigation is a notoriously long and expensive process, and cases rarely end up making it to court. Given these circumstances, it can take a litigator many years to gain enough experience to actually lead a trial. So the firm, which focuses exclusively on intellectual property law, struck upon the program as a novel way of getting its attorneys into trial while also doing needed pro bono work. Volunteers must attend a 10-hour training session that gives an overview of criminal procedure. As cases become available, the attorneys work one-on-one with Kennedy, who provides support and guidance. “I am available every step of the way,” she said, “but it is the lawyer’s case. For some, depending on their experience, I will do nothing, but the most I will do is half.” Support is also provided by others at Finnegan. Lawyers in the program practice their opening statements in front of a mock jury of firm attorneys, paralegals, and even secretaries, who offer advice and suggestions. Finnegan attorneys also play the role of the prosecution, conducting simulated cross-examinations of defendants and witnesses. So far, about 45 Finnegan attorneys have been through the training session, but not all have taken on cases. Kennedy estimates the firm has agreed to represent about 50 clients in D.C. Superior Court since the program started in 2001. The majority of cases come through Criminal Justice Act appointments. “We show up to take cases in Courtroom C-10, like everyone else,” Kennedy said. Some of the more serious cases, however, are referrals from other attorneys who are conflicted out of a case, or come from judges who know about the program and Kennedy’s reputation.

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