Azimuth Check: Lawyer or Lawyer*

It’s been a while. I know. Such is life when you are maintaining a practice whilst packing house and home and moving to a new place. At one point, I decided to abandon Unwashed Advocate. I do this once a year, mostly during summer months. This decision is celebrated by me. It sure feels good to tell your blawg to go to hell.Compass

Then, I return.

After writing brief after brief, appeal after appeal, it is nice to write something that contains your voice. Here, I don’t worry about using passive voice or botching citations. That’s nice.

So, what’ve I been thinking of this summer? Let’s check my direction and see…

Lawyer or Lawyer*

I love talking to other lawyers. I hate talking to other lawyers.

During one of those conversations where, while listening to the other lawyer drone on and on about what she thinks about the legal profession and other lawyers and how other women dress in court and contemplating my suicide plans if she doesn’t soon execute a Kopfian STFU…

Anyway…

She mentioned a particular legal case and remarked “I could never handle cases like that.”

“Huh?” I intelligently replied.

“I SAID I could never do cases like that.”

“Oh, so you’re an asterisk lawyer.”

“What did you just call me?” she retorted.

“I SAID you are an asterisk lawyer. You’re a lawyer, but only when the case or conflict supports and strokes your delicate sensibilities.”

“Are you saying…?”

“Yep,” I cut in, “deal with it. It’s just the type of lawyer you are.”

Knowing me, she got over it quickly, but it reminded me of something I’ve noticed for the last 10ish years.

There are a lot of asterisk lawyers out there.

First, a definition. An asterisk lawyer is a lawyer who is willing to zealously represent some. However, they are completely incapable of representing others.

Here are examples of lawyers*.

“I could never represent a man accused of sexual assault.”

“I could never represent big business.”

“I could never represent a terrorist.”

“I could never take a case representing the tobacco industry.”

“I could never prosecute…”

“I could never defend THOSE people…”

Do not confuse this with the following, which is not a lawyer*.

“I limit my practice to only scrotum husbandry cases.”

That last example is merely someone who limits their practice in order to be very good at one niche. That isn’t saying that they are flatly incapable of representing a particular side, client, or subject.

Lawyers* should be forthcoming about their limitations. Hence, the “*.” At the bottom of their bio, there should be the caveat that quantifies the *, like:

*Except men accused of sexual assault. They should all be emasculated once charges are filed.

*Except terrorists, who should be summarily executed.

*Except big businesses, who are just looking to screw the little guy. Having said that, I can’t wait to upgrade my iPhone and trade-up for the newest, loaded GM vehicle.

*Except the tobacco industry, because cigarettes kill, and that makes me sad and tearful.

Just as I don’t appreciate passionate lawyers, I similarly do not appreciate lawyers*.

A while ago, I started a case with a new co-counsel. They were relatively new to the legal profession but were generally enthusiastic about learning and perfecting the craft. The conversation started something like this:

“Eric, what part of the defense do you want me to work on?”

“None,” I replied.

“None?”

“I want you to focus on prosecuting the case,” I stated.

Confused, they confirmed “You want me to prosecute the case?”

“Yep, and I want you to be flawless.”

Through the ensuing conversation, I explained myself. I wanted them to determine the most dangerous, horrible, loathsome, and damning things that could be done to us by the opposition and play the role throughout our preparations. Without that, our case was just flapping around aimlessly. I concluded the conversation as follows:

“And, when you do it, I want you to love it.”

I love what I do. Really. However, I could prosecute. I could represent a big, nasty, unfeeling, odious corporation. I could represent a nonprofit, and I could represent a party seeking to destroy a nonprofit. I would take on a client who committed (allegedly, of course) horrible, loathsome acts that would shock the conscience of the average person.

Our job as lawyers is to advocate for a particular perspective as part of an adversarial system. We don’t have to accept the perspective of our client into our own hearts. In fact, it is probably best that we not accept it. We fight for the case we are given, not the case that matches our delicate sensibilities. A lawyer can represent any client in any matter under any conditions. That’s what we are trained to do.

That’s what I want to see in a lawyer. That’s what I want to hire. That’s what I want as a co-counsel.

Everyone else is just a lawyer*.

Dunkin Donuts in the Afternoon

A few habits really say something about a person. Here are two examples.

Example 1: A person who drinks bourbon in the morning.

Example 2: A person who eats donuts after 2PM.

Today, I received an email saying that I could get a sweet discount on donuts after 2PM. Therefore, I plan to be one of those mentioned in the second example.

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Have you been a Criminal Defense Lawyer?

Have you found beauty in those labeled ugly?
Have you found worth in the discarded?
Have you given hope to the condemned?
Have you found an abused child within a monster?
Have you seen generosity in the heart of a thief?
Have you found life in those who murder?
Have you touched humanity when all others recoil?
Have you given sweat to a losing cause?
Have you borne a burden no one else would bear?
Have you given love to those who have none?

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Riding on the Back of an Addict

Pre-war Bayer heroin bottle, originally contai...

Image via Wikipedia

Recently we had local primary elections in my neck of the woods. One of the more heated contests involved the election for the Republican candidate for County Attorney. In my opinion, one of the candidates was supremely more qualified for the job, and I leaned-toward voting for him, but I also decided that I should fairly consider the other two candidates, their records, and their positions.

I began by reading the various local headlines concerning the election and eventually moved to the individual websites and web presences for the candidates. One made me sick.

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Leaders like Prof. Hoeflich make a difference

The third year at the University of Kansas School of Law was no picnic for me.

During that year, my wife gave birth to my second child, I prepared for the bar exam, my family readied for a move to Louisiana, and my mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon Cancer. I am my mother’s only child. As such, I became her caretaker during that time. Cancer is ugly, and as her caretaker, I witnessed the ugliness firsthand. I experienced things that most people only see in horror movies.

My family did what they could to keep me on track, and I particularly must thank my wife for being as solid as a rock despite the dynamic circumstances. However, it takes more than one friend to weather so many competing priorities. Luckily, I had that extra support from a professor at the University of Kansas School of Law, Mike Hoeflich.

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Why I defend…

Me wearing polyester in the Ft. Leonard Wood courtroom

Its a question faced weekly by those who practice criminal defense: “How can you represent those people.” I italicized the word “those” because that is typically the way it is communicated to me. In their minds, the simple act of sitting at a table with “those” people is a reprehensible act–one to be devoutly avoided if I am to maintain some semblance of personal and professional self respect. They imply that such representation should make a person feel dirty or unethical.

I couldn’t disagree more.

Frankly, I find every act of representation to be an honor and privilege. Several reasons account for this.

First, the person I represent is placing me at the helm of what is likely the most important event of their adult lives. It is a process that (typically) impacts their freedom, their rights, and future opportunities. Imagine, this person chooses me to represent them at such a dire and important hour of their life. They assimilate me into their lives, share their innermost thoughts and feelings, introduce me to their family, and allow me to advocate for them and their interests. Many, but not all, of these people are servicemembers who have already made an incredible choice in their lives–to give a portion of their adulthood to serve the United States. For this, I am grateful, and it further enhances the respect I have for these individuals.

Second, almost all of my clients are good people who made a bad choice or found themselves in a bad situation. Some suffer from a mental ailment that prevented them from making a full, conscious choice. Many need help in coping with past events. Others made a bad choice, not because they are bad or evil, but because they acted impulsively, negligently, or (more likely) immaturely. They are hardly the monsters that Hollywood depicts in order to sell tickets and DVDs. In fact, they are more ordinary than most of us realize, and I refuse to be ashamed to sit at the same table with these human beings. The headlines you read only tell a fraction of a person’s story.

Third, I love the Constitution of the United States. I love the individual rights we have, and I enjoy our system of checks and balances. The fact that we have a justice system that allows for representation, the right to a fair trial, and the right to have the government prove our guilt is a victory for freedom every day it exists. While no system can ever be perfect, it is as fair as any system that can be conceived at this time.

Fourth, I believe in the importance of the defense bar. That is, I believe that a strong collective group of defense attorneys are essential to our society remaining free. It is no exaggeration to say that they constantly protect us from tyranny. Defense attorneys consistently hold law enforcement and other government entities responsible for their actions, and they ensure that the Constitution applies to anyone in jeopardy of losing their freedom. I am proud to serve alongside these men and women.

Finally, I shudder to think of an innocent person punished for a crime they did not commit. Deserving of strong, capable advocacy?  You bet.