Monday, February 28, 2011

Reasons---I think

When I first started in this business I had the squeemies. I made a definite line between me and them in my mind. The them being my clients. They were, after all, criminals.

And then I began to learn.

I learned that all of my clients were poor.

Not just unable to pay for a lawyer. They were poor. They lived in outrageous poverty. In nearly every case where I entered the home of a client or their family, it was in the worst part of the city or county. The furniture was broken and mended and mended again. The refrigerator would be empty.

 I learned that my clients were addicted to something.

A large part of my clients were addicted to either alcohol or some type of drug. Most had been exposed to the drug of choice before the age of 12. Most had been exposed by older peers who could not get jobs. It was part of the vicious circle.

But the major cause is poverty. Crushing, mind-numbing poverty. Poverty that caused such hopelessness that any escape is better than sitting day after day with no purpose.

So I began to learn.

I learned that my clients are human. With frailties that I needed to understand.
I learned that I didn't need to condone a behavior to understand it.
I learned that I didn't have to condone a behavior to understand a person.
I learned that I didn't have to like a person to understand something about that person.
I learned that in understanding, I could make a difference.

Every once in a while. I could make a difference.

So when I have a former client walk up to me on the street I don't cringe. I don't look for a way to avoid them. Because if they are coming to me on the street, I have learned that they are going to tell me something I need to know.

They come and tell me that the program that I got them into got them off drugs. That they are in college. That their children are back with them and doing well in school. That they have a good paying job. That they got a sibling out of the ghetto or out of a gang.

Sometimes it is amazes me that just one word, one conversation, one shared idea can make so much difference in one person. One person. One at a time.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

I Don't Smoke

I don't smoke.
I don't drink, either. But that is a different (a real different) story.

Today marks 65 months (5 years and 3 months) since I have touched a cigarette. This is my second "major" quit. The first one lasted 15 years. It ended one night in Las Vegas when I was on a much needed vacation with my spouse.

I had gone to work for a civil firm and was doing the occasional criminal matter that the firm's clients found themselves facing. No partner in that firm had a clue about criminal law. So I was the designated hitter.

But on this day it seems that the District Attorney had called and made the usual demands and threats of legal action on some silly and normal issue on a case involving a partner's client. Instead of asking me, at a reasonable hour, what the hell was going on, I got a screaming, name calling, profanity laced phone call, in the middle of the night (2am is unreasonable even in Vegas!) in my hotel room.

I went downstairs, bought a pack of cigarettes and smoked and gambled for the rest of the morning.

I didn't drink, though. And for me that was a real win.

Five years later, I was in my own criminal defense practice and I decided to quit again. It took me that long to screw up my courage to go through that hell again.

So when anyone asks me why I don't do civil work I tell them I don't smoke.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Just thinkin'

OK. I am a lawyer. What my son-in-law likes to call a weasel. (He loses points for that crack every time he makes it.)  I bring that up now because I want all the people who read this to get all the vitriolic, bloviating language, thoughts and opinions about lawyers out of their systems before they decide to read on or go by-by.

Besides, I think you will find that, well, I am not the usual lawyer.

First, I didn't become a lawyer until my mid 30's. Second, I only do criminal defense work. And, third, I am a female, sole-practitioner. If that isn't enough, I have a rather strange sense of humor.

I decided to write a second blog to muse about the things that I see everyday. Since a lot of that is in a courtroom or in relation to the criminal justice system, I felt a disclaimer was necessary. I have a bias.

It can never be said that my days are dull. I meet all kinds of people in all manner or situations. Some of the nicest are wearing orange (or red or gray, depending on the county) jumpsuits that were issued to them at the local jail.

Some of the least nice wear suits and sit at desks. Lawyers can be really uncivil.

As I continue on this adventure, I hope not to be one of those.