The primary goal of this blog is to highlight women in the criminal defense field and to draw attention to the great work that they do. We try to accomplish this is several ways – from interviewing leaders in the field to shining a spotlight on current cases involving fellow women defense attorneys.
Today, we are going to launch a new series. I want to give women in our field the opportunity to share their thoughts about what it takes to be a great defender. I think that this could be a valuable way to help younger female criminal lawyers learn what it takes to do this job well. In this first installment, I am going to share some of my thoughts and talk about what motivates me. In future installments, we will open up the floor and hear from other women criminal defense attorneys.
I am one of those criminal defense attorneys that believe that it is honor to represent my clients. In fact, as many can attest, I really like my clients. I don’t think it is cool to walk around calling your clients names or making fun of them, which we have all heard before. I am not embarrassed to admit that I have gotten choked up at trial or a sentencing. Most of our clients, even corporations, which are made up of real people last I looked, are facing consequences that sometimes warrant emotion. And I believe that the people who decide our clients’ fate, both judges and jurors, should be confronted with the emotional reality of those serious decisions.
I tell jurors that every year I do this job I am more and more humbled by the significance and privilege that it is to stand with a person in their darkest and toughest hours. I fight for every client like it is my last client. They get every ounce of fight in me. My motto is to never give up and I don’t. I have been called determined, relentless, and dogged. And for my clients I am all of those things.
I am fortunate to be able to say I don’t take tons of clients because it allows me to focus on my role of guiding and protecting the ones that I do have in the criminal justice system. And I think they are better for it. For me representing a client is a holistic and organic process. From the moment I begin representing a client I start using the word “we”, because from my perspective we are in this together. And I work on getting to know my clients, their stories, and their experiences because I believe it serves my ability to tell their story and their perspective.
Of course it is not always easy and there are challenging attorney-client relationships. But when it is hard I dig down and remind myself of how scared and afraid the client must be and I go back at it and try even harder. And often I am more surprised than anyone at what I find. I am thinking of a specific case where the client and I had a really tough time relating and once I dug down and pushed through it either I was able to see something that I was blind to, or the client was able to finally trust me. And, that critical fact that we uncovered saved the client 28 months in prison.
So what makes a great defender? From my perspective, it is very simple; a great and true defender has heart. My assistant has a wonderful line, when she critiques food. She will say it is “made with love” or that it isn’t. She is unwavering and clear about her critique because she says you can just tell the difference. And the truth is she is right. And the one thing that makes the difference in a great criminal defense attorney is heart. There are many ways to do the job satisfactorily but there is only one way to do this job striving for greatness, and that is while wearing your heart and soul on your sleeve.