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Going to criminal court as a guerrilla warrior

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Criminal defense work does not suit just anyone. Those who thrive on being part of the “in-crowd” since high school on up, right to college fraternities and to country clubs, might feel like fish out of water doing criminal defense. Former prosecutors, former cops, and former judges who ate up being part of the establishment when in those positions might find it a rough transition to being a criminal defense lawyer, often toiling away in solitude. Those who never coveted a fraternity ring, an invitation to join or golf at an exclusive country club, nor a spot on the A-list of crowded power lunch restaurants or of nightclub VIP areas, have eliminated hurdles to having the right stuff for being an effective criminal defense lawyer.

The “criminal justice” system is overwhelmingly about control of the populace, offsetting the veneer that the United States has the freest and most democratic system in the world. Oppressive government in the United States did not end with the downfall of communist witch hunting senator Joe McCarthy, nor with inroads against racist state and local government actions, nor with an Obama administration that gives itself carte blanche to target even United States citizens for assassination.

Effective criminal defense work includes visiting clients in jails and prisons that even look straight out of Brubaker, It includes going to any neighborhood where the alleged crime took place — and often engaging with people in the neighborhood — no matter how much most people would avoid that neighborhood with its crime statistics. It involves figuratively, and sometimes literally, embracing each criminal defendant, no matter their alleged crimes, no matter their personality makeup, and no matter whether they look like a member of the in-crowd or someone who never even came close.

Chambers of commerce and other so-called mainstream community civic organizations routinely have their cop of the month. How many have their criminal defense lawyer of the month?

Criminal defense is not about winning popularity contests. It is not about winning prestige. It is not about making money ahead of clients, because doing so will get the lawyer hammered down. Criminal defense is about going into any battlefield necessary with one’s client, leaving the proverbial cufflinks and Rolex watches at home, to shovel dung so that it might later yield blooming flowers, to put on war paint, and to go to battle.

Criminal defense is about not yielding an inch of battlefield to the opponent unless it is part of a grander winning strategy. It is about being prepared for battle at every turn, never bluffing about being battle ready, but instead always being battle ready.

Effective criminal defending does not waste time asking why more birds of a feather are not showing themselves and are not speaking up, nor in mourning the loss of such birds. Effective criminal defense is about never deciding that the lawyer has reached final success, because the mountaintop keeps getting higher and higher. An effective criminal defense lawyer goes to court as a proverbial guerrilla warrior, a member of no huge army, but ready to fight and travel all the more freely for not being bogged down by the protocol, convention and groupthink of conventional armies.

When a criminal defense lawyer applies the foregoing approach to representing clients, s/he will become a better lawyer, and the lawyer will become an inspiration to many other colleagues to pursue the same path.