Legal Aid Society Lost

Few make a point with biting satire as well as Appellate Squawk, for which she’s already suffered the slings and arrows of her passionately insipid colleagues. But despite the misguided feelz of this once-brave corps of public defenders, since watered down by the invented conflicts that put lawyers at war with their own clients who were inadequately sensitive of the lawyers’ needs, as if public defense was for the sake of the lawyers, the Legal Aid Society held to its mission.

No more.

A recent communiqué from HR casually let fall that we’re now a “social justice organization” dedicated to the interests of “the most vulnerable.”

Some public defenders, particularly the young ones and the ones seeking to whip up their own popularity, have become fairly loud advocates of social justice. But the job of a public defender is to represent the indigent defendant. This includes the guilty as well as innocent, the nice as well as the vicious, the good, the bad and the ugly.

Sometimes, public defenders will represent “the most vulnerable,” whatever that means today. Sometimes, they will represent the dude who clubs an old woman over the head to snatch the gold chain on which her beloved grandmother’s locket hangs. And sometimes they will defend the angry woman who beats a transgender woman whom she found sharing her bathroom. The duty is to defend them all, defend them zealously, defend them without reservation because they are defendants.

As for “justice,” that’s exactly what we’re defending our clients against. “Bringing to justice,” “obtaining justice,” etc. are gassy expressions for prosecution and punishment. The Italians are more candid: giustiziare means putting to death.  Tacking “social” onto it doesn’t make it less retributive. Might as well put a hat on a piranha. As Hamlet said, “Use every man after his desert and who should ‘scape whipping?” We try to help our clients escape whipping, deserving or not.

But that’s what a public defense organization does, not what a social justice organization. They don’t start with a checklist of privileges and victims, intersectional identities of the various parties involved, and then decide who is the most vulnerable, who is most deserving of their social justice efforts.

Or do they?

You’d be right if we WERE merely a public defender organization. We are not. You’d be on solid ground if you had argued that the organization is inherently in conflict with itself, and that we should be strictly a public defender. Your current point is incoherent because we are NOT merely a public defender.

The argument here is that the Legal Aid Society has undergone mission creep over the years, branching out from criminal defense to others areas of representation, such as family court and housing court. There is a tail wagging the dog problem here, as public defense is their core purpose, but more importantly, there is nothing about representing the indigent anywhere that involves sacrificing their client’s rights for the sake of social justice. They may “NOT [be] merely {?] public defenders,” but they’re still lawyers.

I may not “know” what it means to be a true advocate for social justice, but I damn well know what it means to be a lawyer. So does Squawk. What it means is that it’s none of your business whether your client is the most or least vulnerable, whether your representation advances some identiarian ideal based on the victim hierarchy of the moment. It means you represent your client, whether in criminal, family, housing or any other court.

Not only is the notion lost to the baby lawyers of the Legal Aid Society, but it’s “disgusting.”

This is a disgusting betrayal of our mission and you should be ashamed.

That some baby lawyer, so filled with his childish arrogance, believes he gets to define the “mission” of an organization that’s existed long before he did is unsurprising. All the passionate children suffer from unwarranted self-esteem, their grandiose importance despite having so few accomplishments. But that this child feels empowered to tell a lawyer who has dedicated a career to the defense of nasty, brutish, not particularly vulnerable defendants because that was the mission, that she should be ashamed for trying to teach these useful idiots why the LAS exists.

The lawyers of the Legal Aid Society, criminal defense division, were once public defenders, and some of the best PDs the country had to offer. They fought hard. They fought for the vulnerable. They fought for the nasty. They fought for their clients, no matter how they found them, because that was their duty.

There are no public defenders at LAS anymore. Now, they only have social justice warriors, wiping their sad tears as they walk into a courtroom to decide whether the defendant is high enough on their victim scale to be worthy of their affections.

Moral: If you need to wear a halo, don’t go into criminal defense.

We don’t represent the vulnerable. We don’t represent the innocent. We don’t represent the good guys. We represent the accused. We are not social justice warriors, but lawyers.

Appellate Squawk tried, yet again, to explain to her young charges what the duty of a public defender is. But they know better and instead scold her. No doubt she will be grieved, yet again, for her effort to put the defendants first, and to explain to the unduly passionate that the job of a public defender is to defend. At least that used to be the job at the Legal Aid Society. Like the ACLU before it, LAS is no longer interested in its old mission, public defense.

10 thoughts on “Legal Aid Society Lost

  1. REvers

    It’s tough enough to be a public defender as it is. What PD has time for feelz? I damn sure don’t.

    1. SHG Post author

      You have a lot more time for feelz when you no longer have to defend those who aren’t “the most vulnerable.”

  2. Pseudonymouskid

    Dear Papa,

    If someone can say “I am accused of a crime and cannot afford an attorney but the government still wants to put me in a cage,” they are the most vulnerable. Problem solved.


  3. Richard Kopf


    Appellate Squawk is a treasure. I wish we could write like the Squawk.

    All the best.


    1. SHG Post author

      She’s my muse and conscience. Whenever I get squishy, Squawk reminds me to hold firm to principle.

  4. Appellate Squawk

    Well, to be (uncharacteristically) fair, the comment about not being not being merely a public defender was referring to the outfit’s large civil practice.

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