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.