* Board Certified Criminal Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy
Privileged To Do What We Do.
In 2004, I was a full-time public defender in downtown Indianapolis. I’d been a manager at a Fortune 500 company, and before that, an Army Officer. But in my new role, I was helping people in trouble and fighting for justice. Being a public defender had given me a new lease on life. I had found my life’s purpose. I was energized, passionate, and fully engaged.
But on one particular summer day in 2004, I was not feeling quite so passionate and engaged. I was leaving the hot, sticky, dreary, and depressing confines of the Marion County Jail after having had a very difficult conversation with a client of mine. He was angry. It had been a long week, and my client had not been the first to express his displeasure with me. I had fought earlier in the week with myriad prosecutors, judges, policemen, civilian witnesses, other clients, their families.
This hellish week ended with an aggressive corridor confrontation with the angry boyfriend. He was extremely upset that a jury didn’t believe that his girlfriend was raped by my client. He was clearly unhappy with the jury’s not guilty verdict, and made that fact known to me when he poked me in the chest and yelled, “How do you live with yourself?!” I was tired, worn out and fed up with all this shit.
As I pushed the down button of the jail’s elevator, a frail hand stuck through the elevator door, further delaying my departure from the place I couldn’t wait to leave. I audibly sighed and clearly must have looked annoyed as an elderly man stepped on to the elevator. He was dressed in a light summer suit, wearing a stylish fedora and carrying a cane. I recognized the man; he was a lawyer I saw from time to time in the criminal courtrooms of the City County Building. He must have also been visiting a client of his. The man normally moved slowly in court; addressed judges in a barely audible voice; was polite and charming with prosecutors, but always appeared to be fighting for his clients.
We rode the elevator in silence, looking at our shoes – me in my thoughts and the elder lawyer in his. As we reached the bottom floor, the old man’s tired eyes raised and met mine. “What a privilege it is to be able to do what we do,” he said in his typically soft tone. “Have a nice day.”
Not every day in the life of a criminal defense lawyer is nice. We have hard work to do and daily battles to fight for those whose futures and freedoms have been entrusted to us. But I am reminded from time to time of the words uttered many years ago to me by that elderly criminal defense attorney from Indianapolis.
I have devoted two decades to become excellent at my craft. My practice has always concentrated on defending those accused of committing crimes. This focus and intense desire to excel in the courtroom, in trial and in pursuit of my clients’ goals have fueled me, and have brought about countless amazing results for those clients.
As long as I choose to continue doing this work, I will always be aware of how important it is to give my very best effort on behalf of all my clients—and will always remember what a privilege it is to be able to do what I do.