Where are all the Courts-Martial?

I’m pretty open about my law practice on this blog. Maybe it’s a fault, but it is what it is. I don’t believe in online brands, and that is reflected in my unwillingness to follow the cyber trend of making oneself appear to be the offspring of Clarence Darrow and John Marshall.

Let’s continue this by analyzing another portion of my practice.

Quick trivia question:

Which of the following endeavors has earned me more money?

  • Managing and writing this blog, or
  • Defending servicemembers at court-martial.

Go ahead, take your time. Think this one through.

Ready? OK, what did you decide? Well, of course you said courts-martial. After all, those are the bread and butter of a military criminal defense lawyer. This blog is merely a hobby, and you’ve already noticed that I have no ads to generate income–nor do I want them.

One thing I’ve learned about opening your own practice is that it never turns-out as you expect. We create business plans, establish framework, and outline systems and processes, but the eventual reality never matches the planning.

So, going back to the question above, you answered “courts-martial.” You are wrong. In fact, my income from courts-martial (since late-summer 2010) equals my income from blogging. Zilch and zilch.

Note: This is not a plea for help. I’m doing just fine, and having my own practice is fun for me. It’s not lucrative by any stretch, but I didn’t anticipate it would be. In fact, leaving the Army for private practice resulted in quite a significant cut in pay (a decrease of approximately 2/3 of my active duty salary), but that’s beside the point. This is merely an observation about how starting your own private practice can sometimes be counterintuitive. Chill.

Really, the saddest thing about it is that I love being in the courtroom. You know how some lawyers have a phobia of courtrooms and courthouses? Not me. I love them. I’m a trial junkie. I love it when the judge enters and we are on the record. I love the challenge. I love the game. I love the mix of writing, speaking, and constant advocacy. I love having the opportunity to help someone at a most dire hour. I ended my career as an Army public defender on a high note–with three great results for three great, yet human, soldiers. I was in the proverbial zone.

This March, I will have been out of the courtroom for a year. I don’t think I’m in the zone anymore.

Oh sure, I read all the latest decisions by appellate courts to keep current. I field calls from many old friends looking for a different perspective on their pending cases, and I’m more than happy to do so. It makes me feel relevant to that process. As humans, sometimes we need an injection of relevancy to keep our morale. I’m hardly immune.

I do have clients, and all are good people looking for some relief from something bad that happened to them in the armed forces. Their cases are compelling, and most are appellate-type actions that require issue spotting; solid, persuasive legal writing; research; and an occasional phonecall. Most don’t require that I leave the office, let alone drive to the courthouse.

My current cases are fulfilling in their own way, and I enjoy the act of helping another person to overcome and succeed. Yet, they are different from a court-martial. My cases are individual battles, but a court-martial is a war. There is a big difference.

The fact is that the practice of law is largely not about what your heart desires. It is about what you can do. Sure, you can carefully select clients, but you are still limited by the pool placed before you. It may have a wealth of jury trials, or it may be a mass of ready-made pleas. You just never know.

Fulfillment is a horribly relative term. So is justice. So is the much-ballyhooed “work-life balance.” Just create a career for yourself. Adjust it when necessary. Work hard. Help people. Make a difference in their life. Those that have a mere battle still need help, and they appreciate when it is given. If the experiences of those who came before me are enduring, wars will come eventually. (I think). Just don’t panic when the plan doesn’t hatch as it was envisioned. They never do.

I can, however, affirm that one part of my plan has come to fruition flawlessly and without deviation.

My plan was to have a low-volume practice.

I’m there.


One thought on “Where are all the Courts-Martial?

  1. This is why guys like Tannebaum run around the interwebz telling lawyers, especially lawyers new to private practice, not to piss away their time and money, or worse still, their integrity, trying to become social media suck-ups because there’s a cottage industry of social media gurus (not a sex guru like you, but a twitter-created guru) telling lawyers that every jackass lawyer with a blog is making a fortune.

    It ain’t so. It never was. That’s why those failed, disbarred and incompetent lawyers became social media gurus, selling their services to the desperate and foolish. At least you haven’t wasted your earnings and squandered your integrity to play the game.

    I would like to give you a word of advice that will assure you a successful private practice. Unfortunately, I don’t have any.

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