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Criminal Defense Lawyers Should Hang Together, Not Hang Separately

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At the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin aptly proclaimed “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Prosecutors police, and, unfortunately probably more than a handful of judges, would love nothing better than to see a fractured criminal defense bar. What is better than them trying to divide and conquer the criminal defense bar themselves? To see the criminal defense bar do it all to themselves, Yojimbo style, where Sanjuro led the town’s two rival groups to decimate each other.

I wrote in extensive detail on this topic last year, including:

“In this still-challenging economy, lawyers feel the increased competition when some others cut their fees to a level that they would not otherwise do so in a better economy, when marketing goes on at a dizzying pace, and likely (but hopefully not) when lawyers will unfairly badmouth their competition in seeking to grab a new client. I prefer to view the competitive legal market as one of abundance, with an abundance of potential clients, an abundance of paths for a personally and professionally rewarding career, and an abundance of creative approaches on the way to victory. I believe strongly in helping colleagues rise as I rise, and not to step on their heads in my own efforts at success:

“Perhaps some colleagues feel so comfortable talking to me about their financial concerns that one criminal defense colleague not long ago told me that his direct mailing approach to getting new clients was about all that was keeping himself financially afloat. He told me that he was again taking Virginia court-appointed cases after he had vowed he would not do so (court-appointed cases are great for helping equal access to justice and to varying one’s practice mix and experience, but are not good for pay in Virginia state courts). He said that he now has a practice of parking his butt on a chair near heavy foot traffic in a courthouse hallway before court starts, in case potential clients might have questions for him. Rather than cutting my fees, offering payment plans, or sitting in the courthouse hallway, I pursue a law practice focusing on collaborating with colleagues and taking care of and serving my clients as best I can, just as Bill Evans spoke of taking care of the music for the music to take care of the musician.”

I particularly am thankful of those colleagues whom I know I can call about some of the toughest litigation challenges, and get a welcoming, helpful and non-judgmental response, and who have joined me in trial workshops that I have arranged for having me battle ready for trial. Those colleagues include my following fellow alums of the Trial Lawyers College: Anne Arundel County, Maryland, criminal defense lawyer Chris Flohr; Fredericksburg, Virginia, civil trial lawyer Leila Kilgore; Greenbelt, Maryland, criminal defense lawyer Gladys Weatherspoon; Pennsylvania trial lawyer Anna Durbin; Westminster, Maryland, trial lawyer Tom Hickman;  Ohio trial lawyer and psychodramatist Simina Vourlis, and Maryland public defender lawyer Anne-Marie Gering. The non-TLC alums in this list are Anne Arundel County, Maryland lawyer Bill Blackford; Baltimore County public defender lawyer Jerri Peyton-Braden; Rockville, Maryland lawyer Steve Conte; and Laurel, Maryland, lawyer Brian Bregman. There are more colleagues who are my confidantes, including in my home base of Virginia, and I deeply thank them all.

If a colleague performs well, other criminal defense lawyers should acknowledge and encourage that performance. If a colleague is missing the boat, colleagues should point that out as well, compassionately, constructively and effectively. Defendants’ lives and liberty are at stake. If a judge, prosecutor, or opposing witness is coming down unfairly on a colleague, we must band together for that colleague.

Battle onwards, effectively, courageously, relentlessly, and in teamwork with colleagues.