Following up on last week's post, What makes a good prosecutor?, here's my take on what makes a good defense lawyer. These are in no particular order, I have written them as they occur to me. And not being one, chances are I will miss something so feel free to comment on where I've gone wrong.
1. Never tell a prosecutor he's missed something or is wrong (just kidding, see above).
2. Maintain credibility and reputation. A huge part of a defense lawyer's job is talking to and negotiating with ADAs and the judge. As anyone knows, a reputation takes time to build but can be destroyed in a moment and without a good reputation, without credibility, any representation a defense lawyer makes to an ADA or a judge is worth much less. The best defense lawyers will not misrepresent the facts or try to pull the wool over our eyes. They know that any benefit gained in the immediate present, for that particular client, will be undone by many months of distrust. The flip side is that when a lawyer I trust tells me something, I believe him or her. If Kent Anschutz or Jamie Spencer tell me that their client was the passenger not the driver, I know that are probably right and that when I look at the police tape I should look for precisely that. It makes my work easier and is better for all their clients, now and down the line.
3. Know the facts. It's frustrating to have a defense lawyer approach me in court about his case when I have probably thirty to juggle that day, and ask me about about a minute detail buried in the offense report. I will take the time to read the report when I need to, of course, but if you are one of the many lawyers I trust, and you can tell me the facts, it works so much more smoothly and quickly.
4. Know the law. Just this week, a defense lawyer incorrectly advised his client about the minimum sentence he was facing. The judge caught the mistake and carefully, delicately, made it all right before any harm was done. But prosecutors, defense lawyers, and their clients need to be on the same page, we need to know what the facts are and how the law applies. If a client thinks he's facing 25 years minimum when really it's 5 years, justice isn't getting done.
5. Client control. This is where good defense lawyers really garner my respect. You see, in my experience they often face an almost impossible task of explaining the law to their clients, and explaining the legal position that person is in. One reason it can be so hard is that their clients already think they know they law. A good example is someone being held in the county jail pending trial, or a plea deal, who talks to his fellow inmates, the jailhouse lawyers who tell him with great authority which statute applies and what remedies he is entitled to. If you add to that a lawyer, paid for by the state, who comes in and tells the inmate something he doesn't want to hear: "No, you don't get a dismissal because the cop lost the video." Or, "No, you don't get let out today because the gun you used was fake." Every day, defense lawyers endure mistrust, skepticism, and in many cases outright verbal abuse. So to command respect from and the attention of their clients, and to earn the trust of their clients, is a great skill and one that is not easily mastered.
6. Patience. Time and again, I see the good defense lawyers waiting--for the judge, for a prosecutor, for their clients. Those that don't let their frustration bubble over remain in the best frame of mind to get the job done. And believe me, prosecutors see who is politely and patiently waiting their turn, and we appreciate it.
7. Presentations skills. This is obvious, perhaps, and is the same for defense lawyers and prosecutors. If you have a coherent message and can get it across to a judge or a jury, then you will be a more effective lawyer.
8. Maintain perspective. Most lawyers know when their clients are guilty of the crime charged, and will work hard to represent them in order to get the best deal possible. There are some, however, who will believe every word their client (and his or her family) says, regardless of the videotaped evidence, the confession, and the litany of witnesses who say otherwise. I suppose it relates to maintaining credibility, but if you refuse to accept a cold hard fact, and instead tell an ADA or the judge (or heaven forbid a jury) the complete opposite based only on the say-so of your client, then you are not being effective. A healthy mistrust of the State is, undoubtedly, healthy for a defense lawyer, but blind acceptance or willful ignorance of the facts is unhealthy for a positive resolution of the case.
Let me close by saying that my respect for criminal defense lawyers grows by the day. They have an incredibly hard job and the vast majority do it with good humor, diligence, and a real desire to do the best thing for their clients. They work hard for very little pay in many instances, and face all the perils of the self-employed worker. Bless 'em all, I say.
Okay, as to my list, what did I miss?