You finally have a first-rate law degree! But there’s a lot of things about being a lawyer that law school doesn’t teach. Your first year as a criminal defense attorney will be strenuous, stressful, eye-opening, educational, and fulfilling. You’ll learn as much that year as you did in three years of law school. Here’s what you can expect from those first 12 months.
Defense Attorneys Fall Into Two Categories
You either became a defense attorney right out of law school, or you became a defense attorney right out of the public defender’s office. If you are part of the former group, you are going to be a step behind ex-PDs. Public-defenders-turned-defense-attorneys already know the ins and outs of the courtroom. They know shortcuts to avoid rush hour traffic to the courthouse, and know how the administrative assistants and clerks like their coffee. They know which experts testify well under pressure, and which will cave with a little heavy questioning. They have a large, well-established network of contacts to help their cases move along smoothly. Make friends with ex-PDs, watch how they work, and poach contacts from their network. You may also benefit from getting to know the District Attorney, or even former Assistant District Attorneys like Tad Nelson. They’ll have local experience and can show you the ropes around the legal community.
When You Don’t Know Something, Admit It, and Ask for Help
As a defense attorney, you are responsible for your clients’ lives. You can’t afford to let your ego get in the way. If you do, you aren’t doing your due diligence. Ask senior attorneys questions big and small. Yes, you may get embarrassed, and yes, they may look at you like you have a third eye. Some may even be condescending. However, you getting the right answer means the difference between your client going to jail, or getting exonerated. Swallow your pride, find more experienced attorneys you trust, and ask for help from them.
Realism Replaces Optimism
News flash: not all of your clients are innocent. Not all of them come from underprivileged life circumstances. Some of them will lie to you, and tell you they are not guilty. Some of them will tell you flat-out, they are guilty. As a first-year defense lawyer, you might be a crusader for justice. You might be the only advocate for a wrongfully accused, underprivileged youth. Those are the cases you live for. You also might need to defend a blatantly guilty client who shows no remorse. It’s still your responsibility to provide this person with the best legal defense you can. You get to choose your clients, but you don’t always know who they really are.
Becoming a defense attorney has many rewards. You’ll be able to have a career you’re proud of, and find new ways to use the legal skills you learned in school and on the job. As you go out into the courtroom, keep these tips in mind to stay grounded and focused.
This article is from Brooke Chaplan, a freelance writer and blogger. She lives and works out of her home in Los Lunas, New Mexico. She loves the outdoors and spends most her time hiking, biking and gardening. For more information contact Brooke via Twitter @BrookeChaplan.