Jun 02, 2017 What motivates your potential criminal defense lawyer to do the work s/he does?
Every once in awhile, a lawyer colleague will tell me about how our work is all about making money, or a variation on that theme. Horsesh*t. Too much is on the line for criminal defendants for money rather than the client’s liberty to be the main motivating factor in the fight for clients. Yes, the lawyer should set a fee that justifies the lawyer’s opportunity cost and work, but once that fee is set, all that matters is defending the client to the hilt.
From time to time, a criminal defense lawyer will tell me that s/he does not want further to liberalize marijuana laws, because that will result in fewer clients and less income for the lawyer. Another criminal defense lawyer told me he supported increasing funding for police, opining that this will lead to more reckless driving arrests and therefore more reckless driving cases for criminal defense lawyers to defend. We live in too much of a police state. Who better than criminal defense lawyers — who should be among liberty’s last champion — to counteract that police state? We do not do so by seeking to keep draconian marijuana laws — which police love for getting greenlights to search when they claim to smell marijuana — nor to increase arrests for reckless driving, which should not be jailable in the first place, but is, even for designated excessive speeds.
Sometimes, I learn of criminal defendants who want a lawyer who will cozy up to prosecutors to get them a desirable plea deal, leaving the defendant to need a backup plan to be fully armed and ready for trial in the event that negotiation efforts go south. Do we want soldiers to cozy up to their enemy counterparts? If not, why should a criminal defendant want a lawyer who cozies up to the opposition, rather than one who fights to kick his opponent’s butt on the field, even if friendly with the opponent off the battlefield?
One day, a potential client emailed me after we met, asking why I do criminal defense. I told him, in all candor, that it goes back to my run-ins with the public school teachers whom I did not feel were treating me fairly (falsely accused of trespassing where I had never gone, for instance). As a late, popular criminal defense lawyer said, as I best remember: The elementary school tattletale is now a prosecutor, the schoolroom monitor is now a judge, and the alleged troublemaker is now a criminal defense lawyer.
Criminal defendants need their lawyer fully to be on board in advocating for them, and not to be concerned that their defense of a particular client might risk their country club membership application, social status, nor application to become a judge. I am convinced that my criminal defense work is on the side of the angels, and this helps motivate me to come up with ah-ha ideas towards persuading and otherwise obtaining favorable results, and to keeping the midnight oil burning with full energy when the midnight oil must be burnt. The concept of hiring a lawyer who is not committed passionately to his or her client’s cause and can argue both sides equally well is antiquated. A lawyer need not agree with his or her client’s actions nor viewpoints, but when a lawyer is passionate about the side s/he represents, that is a bonus for the lawyer’s work.
A country club president facing serious criminal accusations is best served by the best lawyer s/he can find, and that search, then, should not be limited only to fellow country club members.
What motivates your potential criminal defense lawyer to do the work s/he does? Being a former prosecutor does not answer whether the lawyer has the drive to do criminal defense work, nor does such experience preclude the lawyer from being great in criminal defense. Coming from a privileged or hard-scrabble background — and preferring brie and Chardonnay versus Pizza Hut and Blatz beer (explaining why both the late Jack Litman who liked fine restaurants paired with fine wine and Tony Serra who repairs trouser tears with tape, both were and are excellent criminal defense lawyers) — does not answer the question, nor does being a raging “progressive”, Reaganite, Communist, nor Libertarian. Watch what happens when a criminal lawyer tells you why s/he does this work, and see whether that answer is sincere or canned, see what the answer reveals about the lawyer’s persona, and see what that says about the lawyer’s drive and ability to fight, keep fighting and kick ass for the defense.