A female defense attorney named Sarah Swain made a profound statement, that I agree with in every word and sentiment. “I believe that I am no better than my clients. We have all made mistakes in our lives. And in that moment of need, I pick up my sword and go to battle to save my client’s life (Or job? Or Family? Or entire future).
And no, I don’t feel bad about it; I’m not embarrassed; I’m not ashamed. In fact, I do my job with great pride. I proudly represent my clients because, in the end, we are all better than the worst decision we’ve ever made.”
We have all made some bad decisions, and all of those decisions came with consequences. As an attorney practicing family and criminal law, I am in a unique position to hear the stories that lead people to bad decisions. Those stories offer me their perspective, and I am charged with holding those secrets, as if they are my own. What I can tell you is that most of my clients look and sound like all of us.
Rarely is a client “all bad.” I meet clients and walk with them through the worst seasons of their life. Many have made bad choices, but some are suffering because of bad choices by another. Each client has their own story, many are stories of abuse, betrayal, drug or alcohol addiction, lack of parental direction, lack of basic necessities, mental illness, and so much more. These stories come from your family, friends, church members, etc.
In most cases, there is a support network for my client. Family, friends and neighbors that report to me what a wonderful person my client is outside of this one mistake or tragedy that led them to me. When my client is your friend or family you expect me to treat them as innocent until proven guilty. I do my very best treat my clients with respect, even though our conversations are often peppered with some hard truths.
I also believe that even the worst of criminal clients are entitled to respect and due process under the law. If they are never shown respect, empathy or compassion how do we truly help them make a change? I believe each of them should be treated with honesty and integrity. I am the one in their corner and holding their hand when they receive a judgment or consequences. I take that responsibility seriously, as it may be the first time that client has felt heard and supported. A sad truth that repeats frequently.
I am asked often, “How can you represent those people?” Well, I took an oath “(t)hat I will practice law to the best of my knowledge and ability and with consideration for the defenseless and oppressed.” The oath does not say take only clients you think are “innocent” or “worth it.” Plus, my Christian belief is that judgment is not my job. My job is to walk with the broken and their families through terrible and trying times.
I will never apologize for doing my job. It is not always easy or popular. Integrity says I should do what is right regardless of what people see, hear or understand. Standing with the broken is right for me, and maybe, just maybe I teach or reach someone, and it changes their circumstances for the better.