As a criminal defense attorney you hear this question a lot and it’s a hard one to answer. Most people expect a very legal-sounding response. One that goes something like this:
I defend people because without good, competent defense the constitution has no value. If people are charged with crimes and we don’t have a system in place to ensure fair treatment, then the system can become out of balance.
But that’s not the whole truth. While being a “cause” attorney or “constitutional warrior” has benefits, for me, preserving our constitutional rights is merely a fringe benefit of the job I love. The real truth is that for me and many other criminal defense lawyers that I know, the main benefit is making a huge difference in the lives of some really great people. Those “people” can be your father; your mother; a brother or sister; or your child. The real truth is that they are human beings and many of those human beings, I learn to really care about during my time defending them.
Have they done wrong? Sometimes they’ve done a whole lot of wrong, some really bad things. But if I’ve learned nothing else as a criminal defense attorney, I’ve learned this: every human being has some good inside of them if you look for it.
My job is to look for and find the good in each client I defend. My mission as a criminal defense lawyer is to uncover all those great qualities my client has demonstrated over the course of his or her life. Once I get to the truth and understand the admirable and good parts of the person, I get the privilege of being a storyteller on their behalf.
Usually during a discussion like this, the next question I hear is “What if you KNOW your client is guilty? “How can you defend them?”
And my answer may surprise you. It doesn’t matter to me. Whether my client is guilty or innocent, I love them both equally. Because of the nature of my job, I have been gifted with the capacity to see beyond my client’s actions. I don’t judge them based on their actions or the bad decisions they may have made. Instead, as their advocate, I am on their side no matter what. Regardless of their innocence or guilt, they get the same whole-hearted, 100 percent level of representation. I will do everything in my power to understand their story and try my best to help them in their moment of need.
As a criminal defense attorney, I consider myself to be very lucky. I have watched my clients at their rock bottom. I’ve seen them lose their freedoms; suffer extreme stress, pain and fear; challenge mighty government resources, and still persevere and come out on top. Through their personal challenges and my fight on their behalf, I have been given the gift of learning a lot about myself as a person.
One of my favorite quotes is from Cynthia Roseberry, a federal public defender from Georgia who said: “We, as criminal defense lawyers, are forced to deal with some of the lowest people on earth, people who have no sense of right and wrong, people who will lie in court to get what they want, people who do not care who gets hurt in the process. It is our job — our sworn duty — as criminal defense lawyers, to protect our clients from those people.”
So, how do I sleep at night? When I help David in his fight against Goliath and topple Goliath –I sleep very well, thank you.