Help For Lawyers And Their Clients
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October 23, 2008 (NEW YORK) – Columbia Law School Professor Conrad Johnson presented The Collateral Consequences of Criminal Charges Calculator, an innovative tool that unites the legal profession with cutting-edge technology to fill a crucial information gap for lawyers and their clients. It has been two years in the making.
Johnson spoke at the “New Media in Education 2008: Connecting a Global Community” conference, hosted on Friday Oct. 17 by the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CNMTL), whose mission is to enhance teaching and learning through the use of new media. The Four Cs Calculator, developed in collaboration with CNMTL, is a Web-based tool that will provide broad access to the full spectrum of consequences that can result from criminal charges. It is scheduled to launch this semester.
The Four Cs Calculator allows attorneys, judges and the accused to gauge what other aspects of their lives might be affected if they are convicted of a given crime. Those aspects can range from child custody to public housing to immigration to the right to vote – all of which are potentially impacted as a result of a criminal charge. And it is not always true that a lesser charge equates to fewer collateral consequences; therefore, Professor Johnson argued, the accused needs all the facts before deciding how to plea.
“Many people say that the collateral consequences as opposed to the direct ones can be more important, more severe,” said Johnson, a clinical professor of law and the co-director of the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic. To create the calculator, the clinic partnered with CNMTL’s Triangle Initiative, which leverages digital tools and capacities that serve the intersecting interests of education, research, and the larger community.
Joining Johnson on the morning panel was Jessica Rowe, program manager of the Triangle Initiative, and Professor Susan Witte, the associate director of the Columbia University School of Social Work Social Intervention Group. Witte also worked with the Triangle Initiative to create her multimedia, Web-based program called Connect, which uses technology to more effectively communicate the facts and risks of HIV and AIDS.
The idea for the Four Cs Calculator, Johnson explained, came about after New York State’s chief judge, Judith Kaye, started promoting the discussion of collateral consequences among legal professionals in 2005.
Under the current laws, judges, attorneys and prosecutors are not required to inform the accused of any collateral consequences of their charges, leaving thousands unadvised and unaware. Johnson joined Judge Kaye’s committee to explore that problem. That committee’s work led to a Web site that allows access to a wealth of information on collateral consequences. But Judge Kaye wanted more.
Judge Kaye envisioned a design that would allow people to access collateral consequences at a glance to keep up with the rapid pace of the legal profession. “We said ‘help,’” Johnson recalled. “And we got help from CNMTL.”
Johnson also involved the students in the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic to bring the calculator to life. “Any organization has IT people and the lawyers and a big gap in between,” said Johnson. “We are able to turn out students who walk in both worlds.”
Triangle Initiative Program Manager Jessica Rowe lauded the calculator, which has also been formatted to accommodate changes in the law that occur over time. “There’s nothing like this out there,” Rowe said. “[The evolutionary nature of the law] is such an insurmountable problem that most people haven’t attacked it.”
So far, all the program testing has gone well, and the Four Cs Calculator’s future looks promising.
As for the immediate future, Johnson has again taken the lead from Judge Kaye. In a recent chat about the program, Johnson said Judge Kaye asked him if she was going to be happy. “Am I going to be really happy?” she asked again. “Am I going to be really, really happy?”
For those in the audience who did not “speak judge,” Johnson translated. What she was trying to express was her strong desire to have the calculator up and running this fall.
“The only answer to that is, ‘Yes, judge,’” Professor Johnson said.
Columbia Law School, founded in 1858, stands at the forefront of legal education and of the law in a global society. Columbia Law School joins traditional strengths in international and comparative law, constitutional law, administrative law, business law and human rights law with pioneering work in the areas of intellectual property, digital technology, sexuality and gender, and criminal law.
— Mary Johnson