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September 18, 2015

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In short:
Public Defenders: better than no lawyer at all. But frequently not much better.

Yes, frankly a disgrace.

The Warren Court: I really miss them.

(Posting here to avoid the other open thread; we'll see how long my will power holds...)

I'm still trying to decide what law area to study when I go to school next year (rather than this year since I decided to "be responsible" and "seek treatment for longterm clinical depression and anxiety"), and while my choice of school will have a large impact on that, I do keep coming back to criminal defense because of grim, depressing things like Ugh's link. I'm sure the more practical members of my family will have fits if I ultimately should choose to sacrifice myself on the altar of public defense, but too few people do it and the system really requires smart, motivated people to be willing to do so despite how thankless (or even despised) it is. We shall see.

NIMBYism gone wild. A couple in one Silicon Valley town has an autistic child. Who, apparently, is not well controlled. The neighbors have complained, and are now suing.

Their complaint alleges that the boy's disruptive behavior also created an "as-yet unquantified chilling effect on the otherwise 'hot' local real estate market" and that "people feel constrained in the marketability of their homes as this issue remains unresolved and the nuisance remains unabated."

Right, suing because their soaring home values might not soar quite so far and so fast. One's heart bleeds for them.

NV - make sure you really think you'll love it. Maybe see if you can volunteer in a public defender's office if you haven't already and have the means. It's not easy (not that you need me to tell you that).

I have a good friend whose practice is mostly criminal defense on the public defender dime.

She's kind of dedicated to it for her own personal reasons, and finds it fulfilling. She is also extremely realistic about what she's going to be able to accomplish, and also about how noble and righteous, or not (mostly not), her client base is.

Long story short, she's not trying to save the world. She's just committed to giving people the best shot she can give them.

She has a pretty modest lifestyle, and doesn't need to make a lot of money, which is fortunate, because she doesn't.

It isn't for everyone, but it's a cool gig for the right person.

Russell's friend sounds like about "as good as it gets" doing essentially pro bono work for people who it is difficult to like. Like most other litigation specialties, criminal defense attorneys tend to "layer" in terms of competence and quality of case (which is defined 100% by how much the lawyer gets paid). Fee for service lawyers absolutely have to get their fee up front in nearly every case.

Most cases are drug or alcohol related, according to my friends who do this.

Anyone thinking about courtroom law needs to have a couple of things in mind. First, if you aren't good at arguing on the fly, and if you aren't good at engaging with people you don't know, i.e. jurors and prospective jurors, and if you cannot consistently put together and argue disparate facts and their legal significance with little or no prep time, litigation may not be your cup of tea. It's the client who pays when the lawyer is unprepared, mismatched or not suited to the task at hand. It's bad business to drop a client in the grease because you're not the right lawyer for the job--not you, NV, but "you, generally".

Not to mention staying up late and getting up early prepping for and trying cases. It's hard f'ing work. I'm 61. I've had six major trials in the last 15 months 11 since 2103. This is the first month I've had since 2012 without at least one trial setting (I had one, it settled on 9/3). I'm bushed.

Here's another thing: As a Public Defender, I don't think you can turn down a client. I could be wrong. If a 'no doubt about it pedophile' or rapist or some such, someone you just can't stand to be around, someone you KNOW needs to be behind bars, wants his day in court, and he's your client, you are bound to him and bound to argue his case as best you can.

I can't do it. In the civil arena, I've been asked to defend pedophiles and other sexual predators, and unless they are truly, not technically, innocent, I won't take the case. When I defended Charles Bortz in the Jamie Leigh Jones case, early on, I hired a former FBI polygrapher to "swab Bortz out like a Soviet defector", which he did and Bortz cleared without any hint of dishonesty (and, other evidence, cemented his innocence, but that came later). A condition of my employment was that if I thought he raped her, I was out and he'd have to get a new lawyer.

Criminal defense is essential in a free country. A lot of lawyers look down on criminal defense lawyers. Some are sleazy, no doubt. But most are pretty good eggs fighting against odds for people who need but often can't find an advocate. It's critical work.

NV, if you go that route, it is not for the faint of heart. It's also hard to get out of. Free career advice, worth exactly what you are paying for it: First, where do you want to be in 15 years? Do you want a solid, remunerative, civil law practice with a high end firm? Or, do you want to take care of folks with limited means and money isn't what drives your boat? Or, somewhere in the middle? Or, do crim defense?

If you think making a lot of money is the way to go (that's always been my thing), these days, unless you are top of the class at a pretty damn good school, the best start is with the feds in some esoteric environmental or other obscure regulatory area, assuming you can get hired. Learn that backward and forward and then go work for the private sector that is on the receiving end of the fed's attention. Mercenary? No doubt. But it's the nature of the beast.

The flip side is stay with the feds. You'll always make a good living as long as there are taxpayers to keep things going.

Or, if that's not your cup of tea, spend your spare time observing how lawyers get things done in family and criminal court. Watching other lawyers is the best way to learn. Watch some civil trials. Start reading all those contracts you sign. Ask yourself why all that shit is in there.

Then, when you get out of school and get your license, do divorces and small criminal stuff. Take in small business clients. Do some real estate closings. Handle some small personal injury matters. There are CLE seminars on getting started in all that stuff. Some of the happiest lawyers I know are small, middle size town generalists. Over time, the money's not bad.

My two cents. Good luck.


I have a friend that used to be a public defender in Arizona. On day he was negotiating a plea bargain with the prosecutor and said "I need a better deal, my client doesn't want to plead to something he didn't do." To which the reply was "Of course he didn't do it, do you think I'd be offering this sweat heart deal if I actually thought he did it?"
That was the final straw, now he's a television producer.

Russell's friend sounds like about "as good as it gets" doing essentially pro bono work for people who it is difficult to like.

She is an unusual, and an unusually good, person.

She actually finds most of her clients pretty easy to like. They are apparently, with some notable exceptions, nice enough people on a personal level, they're mostly just screw ups, of one kind or another. And yes, controlled substances of one kind or another figure prominently.

She also does a reasonable amount of garden variety family law - wills, etc. - which helps make up for the short money on the criminal defense side.

Talking about niches, I have a cousin who is a patent lawyer, and a friend who is a maritime lawyer, and both do very well.

My two cents.

All insight is appreciated. No lawyers in the family, and only one (not-particularly-close) acquaintance practicing... and while I did paralegal work in uniform, most of the time I wasn't even working in the same building as my lawyers, let alone able to have idle conversations with them. So more POVs than the limited ones I have can only be good.

She actually finds most of her clients pretty easy to like. They are apparently, with some notable exceptions, nice enough people on a personal level, they're mostly just screw ups, of one kind or another. And yes, controlled substances of one kind or another figure prominently.

I saw this in corrections. The rapists and pedophiles (among others, but we had 40% SOs where I was, when I was there) I provided paralegal services to (and against; my main job were discipline and custody level boards) seemed like perfectly tolerable people on a personal level.

Talking about niches, I have a cousin who is a patent lawyer, and a friend who is a maritime lawyer, and both do very well.

Aye, that's the flip side. I'm sitting on a Master's in CS, and it's possible I'd be much happier in IP/tech/etc. The money certainly would be better, though that's never been my primary motivator. Meh, I still have some time to choose before I pick an anchor to tie myself onto.

Dude, masters in CS plus pass the bar and you should have quite a number of options open to you.

And there may be a lot more opportunities for doing pro bono work in internet cases in the future

http://arstechnica.com/uncategorized/2006/04/6662-2/

http://www.techhive.com/article/230515/So_Youre_Being_Sued_for_Piracy.html

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/02/12/national/crime-legal/accused-hacker-im-innocent/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/6563877/City-lawyer-fired-after-police-kept-record-of-her-innocent-arrest.html

http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2015/05/08/man-arrested-for-having-twink-images-on-computer/

NV-sounds like you need to find a niche as an independent consultant. McKinney provided some sound advice. Too bad his political advice sucks.

See also what Paul Campos has been writing about law schools over at Lawyers, Guns, and Money.

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