LawyerLife. From a different angle.

Thanks so much for those of you who got into my last post, about my struggle and resolution and undoing and rebuilding around my own practice as a lawyer.  My practice is in family law, so the questions and struggles I feel, while universal to lawyering in some ways, are also sub-industry specific to my line of work.

A twitter friend has kindly offered to come and guest over here at Alphabet Rainbows, to post about his perspectives on life and work as a criminal lawyer.  Thanks Andrew for your generosity, and I really appreciate you joining this important conversation.  Please drop by Andrew’s blog www.mrtiedt.blogspot.com and have a read.  He is clearly much smarter than me, and writes with insight about some real issues.  On the other hand, I just bang on about what’s going on in my head or my family.

So please, sit back and get into Andrew’s thoughts on Doing the Crime.  (the work.  not the offence).

As a regular reader of this blog, I’ve often found my mind turning to my profession.

You see, I’m also a lawyer.  But not just any lawyer.  A criminal defence lawyer.

On one hand, it’s a job that people love to hear about.  The cases I’ve run, the high profile people I’ve acted for, and the drama that is an inevitable part of almost every day.

It usually doesn’t take long, however, before I’m asked the question that annoys me more than any other.

“But, like, how can you defend guilty people?”

It’s an understandable question.  In today’s world, we are saturated with television shows that almost invariably portray the defence lawyer as the bad guy.  For every “A Time to Kill” (link to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Time_to_Kill_(film)) there are a dozen cop shows where the valiant cop is thwarted my the tricky, lying defence lawyer.

The media is filled with stories about defence lawyers exploiting “loopholes” in the law. The streets are flooded with bad guys who those nasty lawyers have freed.

As it happens, defence lawyers are not the soulless crooks that the media would have you believe.  Most of the time, we are the people helping David take on Goliath – fighting for the little guy when no one else will.

Despite what people may think, I refuse to feel bad about the job I do.

The job of a criminal defence is lawyer is divided into two main parts – acting on sentence, and defending people.

The vast majority of people accused of a criminal offence plead guilty. They may retain a lawyer to try and minimise the sentence they receive.

My job, then, is to help them tell their side – to portray them in the best possible light to avoid a conviction, reduce a fine, or try to keep them out of gaol.

There are two things to say about that.  Firstly, of course there times that the client gets a lenient sentence.  There are also times they get an excessively harsh sentence.  I can’t help that. Magistrates and judges will inevitably exercise discretion in different ways.

What i can do is make sure that my clients side of the story is told. The prosecution will point out all the bad things, and I will try and make sure the good things are heard as well.

This includes people charged with heinous crimes.  What would you prefer?  That they be hung drawn and quartered in the city square? Or rather that the court has the benefit of understanding the circumstances that lead to their offending behaviour, or perhaps the treatment that they are now receiving?

The other part of my work is defending people – trying to show that the Crown have not proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

This can be an ugly part of the job, but it is the most important part.  How are we to decide if a person should be punished?  Just take the word of police, or the accuser?

Unfortunately (and I really do mean that – unfortunately) we cannot always take alleged victims or the police at their word. Moreover, people can be mistaken – they mishear, they misremember and they get people or situations confused.

I don’t get to decide who deserves a defence and who doesn’t.  My job is to defend people.  Sometimes I will be on the side of right, and no doubt sometimes I have been mislead. It’s up to the court to decide that – not me.

My job isn’t always pretty.  But I know that I play a crucial role in our criminal justice system. Without people like me, the state would have unfettered power to punish and imprison whoever they wanted.

That doesn’t mean that I am always right.  But it does mean that I feel really good about the job I do.

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About Kathryn Hodges

Hi! I'm Kathryn. I have many hats in this life. I am a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother (of 4!), a friend, a keen try-er of yoga, a lawyer, a business owner, an avid reader and a lover of this electronic world and it's connections. As the Principal of a wonderful law firm on the Sunshine Coast, Qld, Australia, I focus on seeing my clients as people going through change and I am committed to practising mindfully that I am dealing with people and their families. Precious stuff, hey! I hope you enjoy learning more about the things that impact on me, my life and my practice. Please leave me a comment, as I'm sure you have something you can show or teach me. We're all in this learning thing, called life, together xx Oh, and my professional obligations mean I have to remind you that my opinions are my own.
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6 Responses to LawyerLife. From a different angle.

  1. Debyl1 says:

    This was a really good post.Thankyou for the insight into how the defence works and sorry that some people judge you in the wrong light at times.You are doing the best you can for those that need your guidance and good on you for that.

  2. Kathryn Hodges says:

    Thanks Deb. I think that it is easy, in many parts of life to write off the “bad guys” as just that. They are bad. The end. It’s a lot harder to find the compassionate view.
    After all, we all make mistakes. Who really should judge that the mistake that led to one person falling into debt or working their relationship into ruin, is less of a mistake than one person who fell into drug use and criminal behaviours to feed that addiction.
    As always, life, and the people in it, are complex. We should always be wary of the single dimensional story. In my view. Crimes should be punished. But not without caution.
    K xx

  3. drcarls says:

    As someone who seems to have watched lots of crime movies where the innocent is on trial (think Presumed Innocent) I have a very special respect for defence lawyers… yes perhaps sometimes they are defending ‘the bad guy’….. but even the bad guy deserves a defence (or the government will ahve free reign to do as they will)…. but sometimes, just sometimes, perhaps they are defending the innocent.

    • Kathryn Hodges says:

      Hey Carla,
      Thanks for choosing to comment. It’s funny how your pictures are drawn from the “wrongly charged innocent”.
      It seems that when it comes to crime, it’s easy to see a one-dimensional view of those charged. We aren’t taught to see the multi-dimensional view of so many difficult areas of life.
      I think Andrew is brave to stand in and work within the multi-dimensional reality that is the criminal justice system. Respect.
      K xx

  4. Hi Kathryn, thanks so much for the important blog from Andrew. It was an insight I had not had before- all aspects of a Defence Lawyers job, fantastic!!
    May I say to you Kathryn, the things you right about are not ‘not important issues’ as you say- they are very real and issues everyone can relate to. Your blog is important to many many people, please don’t minimise what you write, your words are meant to be heard and WE won’t hear you ‘down playing’.
    Look forward to this next blog!! :)))

    • Kathryn Hodges says:

      Thanks Julie,
      Isn’t it interesting to see the world from a different (and unexpected) angle. I am so grateful to Andrew for sharing this view with us.
      And thanks for your lovely words. I appreciate that you find my words and my issues so real. Perhaps we are deluded together!!
      K xxx

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