By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal
The next few blogs I write will be about what I think it takes to be a successful criminal defense lawyer. They are traits I hope my clients find in me.
10. You Can’t be Judgmental
Being judgmental is for everyone else except your lawyer. This is Square one. If you can’t get past this then you don’t have much business defending people in my book. Carrying judgmental thoughts about your client is excess junk we don’t need cluttering our brains while doing the complex task of practicing law.
Understand two things about my job. First is I don’t know whether my client is really guilty or innocent. The only way I’d know for certain is if I witnessed things myself — in which case the rules wouldn’t allow me to represent the person anyway. Second, is beyond helping a person — our role has a far greater good and purpose… but that is a different topic altogether. You can read about it here or here.
My impression is by the time a person gets to my office, they feel judged by their parents, spouse, children, neighbors, extended family, co-workers, and strangers they see pushing shopping carts in the dairy section of the super market. They don’t need it from me too.
Some lawyers simply can’t clear this hurdle. Its too hard for them. What they don’t realize is removing judgment from the equation is the first step towards really understanding their client.
Being judgmental causes lawyers to presume guilt and not innocence which is an extremely dangerous mind-set. Presuming guilt causes a toxic and circular thought process which invariably results in the lawyer dumping the case — and the client — as quickly as they can.
Many people — not just lawyers — feel if someone “gets away” with something the sun will somehow not rise the next morning. We hate injustice and we hate thinking about it in these terms, but the Earth will still turn on its axis if a guilty person doesn’t get convicted of Drug Possession, DWI, or even murder.
It is somewhat liberating to know how imperfect the world really is when you really reflect.
And oh, by the way… someone who is unsuccessfully prosecuted occasionally gets to enjoy indefinite sleepless nights, permanent damaged relationships such as divorce, and lost employment and opportunity. They might also enjoy fear of financial ruin, actual financial ruin, or even their name permanently smeared in the newspaper. Not that any of this should count as punishment.
A person who comes in and says they didn’t commit the crime deserves their version to be thoroughly investigated. A person who comes in and says they made a terrible mistake deserves having us make every effort they are really understood by prosecutors, a judge or a jury. I can’t see where my independent opinion of this person or what they might have done fits into any of this?
A good lawyer needs to clear their mind of the excess junk so they can fight for liberty, more accountable government, and to help a person who needs a voice.
*Jeremy Rosenthal is Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and is licensed by the State Bar of Texas.