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Winning requires battle, dirty hands and beyond, and transcending unfairness

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In my second semester of law school, my eyes glazed over about the trade-school-sounding aspect of our moot court instructor’s intensely instructing us on the minutiae of using the right color for our appellate legal brief covers – blue for the appellant and red for the appellee.

Today, when hiring legal support staff, I look for people who know how to enjoy the clerical and minutiae part of their work, including through seeing the big picture of the battle-readiness involved in doing so. Successful criminal defense is peaceful yet fully aggressive and persuasive warfare. No matter how pro-peace/anti-war is a criminal defense lawyer, s/he needs proverbial killer instincts and the lessons of Sun Tzu. As much as I prefer more overall pacifism, I have never become a full pacifist. Were I a full pacifist, I might have more trouble embracing the warfare lessons and analogies of practicing criminal defense.

Being a criminal defense lawyer means not only getting one’s hands dirty, but knowing the dirt at all times. Those wanting silver tea sets throughout the day are going to have big problems visiting grim jails and crime scenes on the other side of the railroad tracks; dealing with clients and witnesses who would never apply to a country club even if they had the funds for it; and confronting the nastiest of prosecutors, judges, police and non-police witnesses. Criminal defense is not genteel work.

As much as I did not appreciate the level of unfairness of law school testing (where the entire semester’s grade typically relied on one final  exam) and grading, as much as I did not appreciate paying high tuition to find so many law professors with closed door policies and law firms that refused to hire those who did not make law review or the top 20% of the class, and as much as I did not enjoy the Paper Chase mentality that so many law students too often engaged in (and I sadly fell into that trap at times), such problems reflected the real world. The real world is not fair enough, kind enough, or just enough, but can be one day. After four years of the insulation of college, I needed what followed: living in a shoebox apartment with no kitchen and working for a year in Manhattan before law school, and experiencing its daily grit and a man who calmly went onto the subway tracks before my apartment lease’s ink had dried, waiting to be run over (which traumatized me for a very long time); coming front-and-center with the realities of law school; and coming front and center with the realities of living as a criminal defense lawyer.

Fortunately, I have emerged from the darkness and grayness that I often felt in law school and the corporate law firm where I worked before finding my niche in criminal defense, to seeing life as first and foremost empowered and enjoyed from within. Had life not gotten so grim for me, I might have taken much longer, if ever, to find such an essential solution to life, criminal defense, and persuasion. 

Life is not fair. Working with and transcending that truism is an essential part of effective battle in court and fulfillment in life.