Dirty Socks, Jockey Shorts and Passion
How My Long Legal Path Shaped Me Into an Effective Fighter for Our Clients
“Your dirty socks, jockey shorts, best effort, honesty, and integrity.”
These are the things that my mentor, Roy Dickinson, told me that I needed
to be willing to give to my clients (I will give you my interpretation
of that Roy-coined phrase later), but above all else, I was to deliver
“passion.” If I had no passion for my clients, Roy Dickinson
would kick my butt and then kick me out of his office.
Unexpected Path to Criminal Law
Before I worked for Roy, I interned for a group of lawyers in Franklin.
My first assignment for them was supposed to be easy. “Go to the
jail and talk to our client.” At the time, I was a law student and
had never talked with a client by myself. How hard could it actually be?
However, as happens in criminal law, when something seems simple, that
is when you need to prepare for the unexpected. The words I heard from
that client were absolutely shocking to a young intern and would change
my career path forever. She stated to me: “A sheriff’s deputy
raped me while transporting me to court
My first year of law school, I clerked for a Judge I had known for many
years. My final two years of law school I was hired to work in a firm
with a female partner – whom I greatly admired – to practice
civil law, such as divorce and real estate law. I was excited to work
with her, but on my first day (much to my chagrin) I was informed that
the male partners needed me to work in their criminal practice. That week
“the boys,” (as she called them) sent me to interview a client
named Lisa in a jail located an hour away. I was excited for the challenge,
but clueless. She was charged with theft and drug possession, but “the
boys” had not bothered to tell me about her bigger issue.
After an hour drive and then fifteen minutes needed to convince the jail
officers that I was legit, they buzzed me into a locked cell with Lisa.
Initially, she accused me of being a cop, then a snitch until I finally
convinced her I worked for her lawyers. Shortly thereafter, she confided
with me that she had been raped by a deputy transporting her to court.
The deputy threatened to make it look like she escaped if she told anyone,
and further said that nobody would believe the word of a criminal anyway.
He was wrong. I believed her. I then spent the drive back wondering how
a mere intern would be able to convince “the boys” in the
firm that she needed our help. What I didn’t know at that time was
they knew about her situation but weren’t 100% positive that she
was telling the truth. I was sent to interview Lisa because they wanted
a “chick’s opinion” before going to the extreme measure
of accusing a jail officer of rape. After my opinion validated their own
belief that the client was telling the truth, the lawyers did in fact
accuse that sheriff’s deputy and ultimately, he was charged with
a crime. The county was also forced to pay thousands of dollars to the victim.
I had never really thought about practicing criminal law until that case…but
that is all that it took. My path was paved. That case defined justice
for me. Justice is doing what is right, regardless of popularity, and
it is being true to your word, fighting for the right result, regardless
of what others think or who you are up against. It is why I do this work.
That was almost 25 years ago, and since that time the bulk of my practice
has been dedicated to criminal law, and for several years now I have focused
my entire practice in criminal law.
Learning to Practice the Right Way From an Icon
In 1996, I had the incredible good fortune of starting to practice law
in my hometown of Franklin with a local icon, Roy Dickinson. He was a
crusty, old-school attorney with a huge heart who was loved and respected
by everyone in the legal community. There were three rules that I was
required to live by if I wanted to work for Roy. First, always return
calls from your client. Second, always give them all that you have: “your
dirty socks, jockey shorts, best effort, honesty, and integrity.”
I have no idea where Roy came up with that phrase, but I will never forget
it. Third, always represent your client with passion, no matter how big
or small the case or the fee. In fact, Roy would often yell out “PASSION!”
out of nowhere when discussing a case to remind me of our solemn obligation
to clients. I worked with passion fighting for clients accused of crimes
and (when necessary) going to trial ranging from murder, child molest,
rape, domestic battery, drunk driving, and just about everything in between
for the first eighteen years of my career.
People that would hear Roy discuss giving clients our “dirty socks
and jockey shorts” were at a loss as to the meaning. If he said
it once, Roy said it 10,000 times. Roy never told me the exact meaning,
but what I think he meant was that we need to give the client
everything that we possess to help them out. Everything. Our time. Our talents. Our
emotion and more. If it took dirty socks and jockey shorts to give the
client the best chance at the outcome they deserved, then that’s
exactly what we should do.
Tragedy Changes My Course
In 2014 my life and career took a turn when my dear friend, who was a local
deputy prosecutor, lost her fight with cancer. I was an emotional wreck
and needed a change. Also, I had been a solo practitioner for many years
and felt it was time to be part of a team. It so happened that during
that time, the elected prosecutor approached me about filling my friend’s
position. He needed a “good trial attorney, who was not afraid to
try cases; someone that could be trusted to work hard and be a minister
of justice.” Even though I had always viewed myself as a criminal
defense attorney, I decided to give it a shot. It was a change, but I
would now be part of a team, albeit as a prosecutor. Not long after becoming
a deputy prosecutor I was assigned to work with sex crimes, child neglect
cases, and domestic violence cases. Those are the cases most likely to
end up at trial, and it was in the courtroom where I had developed my
reputation and where I felt the most confident. It was also in the courtroom
that the prosecutor needed the most help.
Learning the Inner-Workings of a Prosecutor’s Office and Thinking
Like a Prosecutor Can Only Help Our Clients
Working in the prosecutor’s office was more stressful than I had
ever imagined. It was not because of the trials. I could try cases. No,
the stress came from the power and authority that was rooted in my position
as a prosecutor. I had the authority to charge or decline serious criminal
cases against people I had never met. Not a day passed without me thinking
of the importance of my role in ministering justice. In my time as a deputy
prosecutor, I built relationships with police officers, defense attorneys,
other prosecutors, and many expert witnesses. As a prosecutor, I learned
what happens in an investigation even before a case is filed or declined.
For almost four years, I was a part of serving justice from a side previously
foreign to me. I learned how to think like a prosecutor. I also witnessed
firsthand what ineffective criminal defense lawyers looked like. An ineffective
defense attorney would not fight for their clients. They would not take
cases to trial. Sadly, I witnessed a lot of incompetent lawyers defending
their clients who we (as prosecutors) knew would
never take their case to trial…even if it was potentially a winnable case.
However, there was one law firm that bucked that trend. The Criminal Defense
Team. Whenever the lawyers from the Criminal Defense Team were representing
their client, I knew we would be in for a fight…if a fight was
necessary. The lawyers in the Criminal Defense Team were aggressive and
would take the case to trial if they felt it needed to go. They were aggressive,
but they did things the right way.
Coming Back to Fight for the Accused
When it was time for me to leave the prosecutor’s office, I knew
there was only one firm that I could join that shared the passion that
I had for criminal law. So, it’s not surprising I landed back here
with the Criminal Defense Team of Baldwin Kyle Perry & Kamish. I am
proud to once again fight for the accused in my community, but this time
with added weapon of knowledge that I had gained from working as a prosecutor.
Even better, I am still working with a team, rather than on my own. Roy
Dickinson died a few years ago, fighting passionately for his clients
until his dying breath. I will continue Roy’s tradition of passionately
giving my all for our clients. Even my socks and my jockey shorts, if needed.