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Band together, criminal defense lawyers, or suffer the consequences

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One day, I called a criminal defense lawyer colleague in another county to ask about how to overcome some procedural hurdles peculiar to his county’s District Court judges in obtaining a trial date postponement. When I did not reach him, I spoke with colleague II in the same county and got my answer.

When colleague I called me back later in the day, I said: “Thanks immensely for calling me back. After leaving you my message, I reached your colleague II, who gave me my answer.”

Colleague I replied: “Colleague II is not my colleague. She is my competitor.”

Is that so? As hackneyed as the phrase has become, with criminal defense lawyers, united we rise, divided we fall against the often extraordinary resources of prosecutors, cops, and prosecutors in robes, starting with police officers’ power to arrest and not, and prosecutors’ power to charge and not charge with certain crimes, and to legally bribe snitches with the possibility of leniency in their own criminal cases against them, which is a tool unavailable to the criminal defense in developing and presenting witnesses.

Criminal defense lawyers must share with each other the gifts we have received from others and ourselves for how to level — and, better yet, overturn — the uneven playing field faced by criminal defendants fighting against unjust bail laws, often unjustly limited discovery rules, snitches receiving legal bribes of potential leniency from prosecutors, false and distorted accusations, over-charging, a Fourth Amendment and Miranda doctrine that leak like sieves, often draconian sentencing laws, hanging judges, and the list goes on.

A corollary to the need for criminal defense lawyers to band together for justice and to help criminal defense colleagues rise as they rise, is to compete fairly. The competition for criminal defense clients is substantial. A great majority of criminal defendants obtain court-appointed/public defender lawyers. That leaves many criminal defense lawyers wanting to defend the remaining minority of criminal defendants. Criminal defense lawyers must not attempt to steal other lawyers’ clients (for instance, by lurking in the courtrooms of other lawyers’ clients’ pretrial hearings, and then pulling aside the defendants or their family members – unsolicited — to urge how much better a job they can do than the current qualified lawyer, for the defendant), nor should they unfairly badmouth their colleagues when talking with a potential client (e.g., by urging that another colleague has insufficient experience in an area where the colleague actually does have sufficient experience).

Abundance is ours for the taking in life, and backstabbing efforts by lawyers in seeking clients will boomerang back into their vital organs.

Jealousy repeatedly threatens us, and weakens us when we let it in. We have arrived on the path of success and non-attachment when we are able to revel in others’ good fortune (and I underline GOOD fortune, as opposed to fortune earned through disserving good) as much as we revel in our own good fortune. Case in point: In 2005, I eagerly went to Philadelphia to finally see Bhagavan Das, an American born man who became a very accomplished yogi in India in the 1960’s, who introduced Ram Dass to Neem Karoli Baba, and the rest is history, with Ram Dass’s having become by around 1970 a critically positive catalyst in the spiritual world (remaining so to this day) and counterculture movement, and a very persuasive voice about the benefits — rather than merely the dangers — of psychedelics.

I was very non-plussed with the responsive kirtan chanting that Bhagavan Das led the entire time I was at this small yoga studio, having arrived thirty minutes late and not knowing if he said anything before starting to chant. I have since learned to appreciate good kirtan, particularly in the hands of Krishna Das, who met Neem Karoli Baba through Ram Dass, and became a deep devotee of Neem Karoli Baba.

I was nevertheless excited to be in the presence of this man whose story comes alive in It’s Here Now (Are You?), which is quite the whirlwind of a counterpoint to Ram Dass’s much briefer Be Here Now. I clutched onto my copy of Bhagavan Das’s It’s Here Now as I tried to meet him and possibly get his autograph on the book. He ignored me, or maybe did not notice me in that dark room as throngs tried to get a piece of him. And why should he have paid attention to me as I violated his tenet that he drove home to Ram Dass, before Ram Dass got that name, when Ram Dass was talking in the past? I was attached to the concept of meeting Bhagavan Das and getting his autograph, rather than simply being in and reveling in the now and in his presence.

Then, out of the blue, a man several years younger than me walked right up to Bhagavan Das. Bhagavan Das said: “Hello, Ma,” to this man whom Bhagavan Das had never met before. The man then said: “I drove from Ohio to be here.” Bhagavan Das: “That’s devotion. Where are you staying tonight?” The Ohio man: “I have not arranged that yet.” Bhagavan Das: “Why don’t you stay with us?” Yow, I thought. Why could that not have been myself, engaging in conversation with Bhagavan Das and being invited to join his crew? Because the Ohio man was in the now and had no expectations nor agenda, and I did.

Non-attachment/non-duality is an essential and powerful path in life, but is often difficult to follow. Had I been following non-duality that evening with Bhagavan Das, I would have seen the Ohio man and Bhagavan Das as not separate from me at all, but as part of a harmonious whole. With a non-attached/non-dualistic approach, I would have reveled in being in Bhagavan Das’s presence as if he was an ongoing part of me that I had finally met up with, and I would have reveled in the Ohio man’s good fortune in connecting with Bhagavan Das as much as I would have reveled if I had met with the same fortune.

Reveling in the good fortune of others as much as in our own good fortune infuses us with such a high level of positive and persuasive energy that such energy will earn a criminal defense lawyer more clients, more victories, and more success than if the lawyer set out on a mission to grab clients through being jealous of and even backstabbing against other criminal defense colleagues.

We still hear the statistics of high unemployment and a very challenging economy. Fear sets in for so many people hearing such news. The fear, though, will not enable us to break free of such challenging economic times, but instead will enable a vicious cycle of ongoing challenging economic times.

I have heard from many people how scary they think it is to go into business for oneself. Moreover, the successful solo practitioner lawyer with decades of experience looked at me and my former law partner Jay Marks when we met to finalize our partnership agreement that this solo practitioner lawyer had drafted, and he looked us questioningly right into the eyes: “Are you really going to go through with this” partnership, leaving our salaried jobs at other lawyers’ law firms. “Of course,” we replied without missing a beat. That was fifteen years ago, and Jay and I have never looked back.

An initial view of plenty of lawyers who take the plunge to be his or her own boss might be a paranoid belief that all other lawyers in the same field will do underhanded things to get potential and existing clients away from the lawyer, thus justifying the paranoid lawyer — in his or her mind — to do the same, seeing it as the only way to compete successfully in the market. Then, I remember the story of Milton Hershey, of chocolate world fame, who made sure that all his employees kept their jobs during the Depression, and made sure that candymaker Reese (of Reese’s peanut butter cup fame) had enough sugar to make his candy. Hershey also donated substantial sums to the Hershey school for underprivileged children. This man, Hershey, who endured substantial business failures and extraordinary business risk before finally rocketing into his stratospherically successful chocolate candy business, got paid back in countless ways for looking out for others’ well being as he rose.

When a criminal defense lawyer revels in the success of his or her colleagues, and shares his or her wisdom and insights and experience with those who seek it, s/he will find that colleagues will gladly reveal golden information and ideas with them, without concern that the revealed information and ideas will be misused.

At first blush, one might think that it is easier for criminal defense lawyers to get along well with each other than with prosecutors, and that should be the case. However, with the above-discussed jockeying for positions among so many criminal defense lawyers against each other — let alone when they work at feverish speed to get the best snitching deal for their clients against co-defendants and co-suspects (I avoid snitch work) — such banding together becomes all the more a challenge.

Band together, criminal defense lawyers, or suffer the consequences.

1 Comment

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