As I write this on a Sunday morning, I am in the middle of a complex criminal jury trial that will likely last four weeks. Of course, I cannot write about the substance of the case or the lawyers. But watching the criminal defense lawyers in that case started me thinking about my observations of other criminal defense lawyers over the last 25 years.
It occurred to me that the readers might be interested in my top ten observations about criminal defense lawyers from the perspective of a federal trial judge. So, in no particular order of importance, here are my observations:
10. Criminal defense lawyers are at great risk of becoming drunken bastards—the stress is beyond description.
9. Being a good criminal defense lawyer requires sincerity whereas being a great criminal defense lawyer requires the ability to fake it.
8. When it comes to convincing a client to accept a guilty plea because it is in the manifest best interests of the client, a criminal defense lawyer must become a client whisperer.
7. When it comes to convincing a client to reject a plea offer and take the case to a jury, a criminal defense lawyer (regardless of gender) must possess balls of steel.
6. Real criminal defense lawyers don’t hate prosecutors, but they don’t trust them either.
5. Criminal defense lawyers know that the federal trial judge is never their friend, but the judge is seldom their enemy.
4. A tiny fraction of people who have law degrees have the ability to become even mediocre criminal defense lawyers.
3. If you became a criminal defense lawyer because you like Rolex watches, then you are an asshole.
2. You must have a big ego to become a decent criminal defense lawyer but you must not be an egotist—it is never, ever about you.
1. Real criminal defense lawyers represent clients and not causes.
By the way, this was to be my last post on Fault Lines. So, I will end by making explicit what is implicit in the foregoing. To all who labor as criminal defense lawyers and who aspire to be good, and perhaps even great, ones, I respect you more than you will ever know.
All the best.
Richard G. Kopf
Senior United States District Judge (Nebraska)