Short Take: Boot Camp For the Cause

When he first appeared on my radar, I thought he was kinda shallow, maybe even dense. I was wrong. There was method to his madness, his pandering to the crowd with half-truths, missing salient facts, contorted law and misstated theories.

In fairness, I came to appreciate the skills Director of Policy Scott Hechinger from LIsa Schreibersdorf’s Brooklyn Defender Services brought to the cause. He’s now got a blue tick next to his name and, at the moment, more than 55,000 followers. Give him credit. He’s pulled off a coup for the cause, and with it he’s earned the devotion and appreciation of a great many passionate advocates for social justice and criminal law reform.

My perspective over my career and my tenure at SJ has been guided by two basic principles: to be as intellectually honest as I can be, and to not make people stupider. These are not Hechinger’s principles. He will say whatever is necessary to whip up his audience and inflame their outrage if it will serve the cause. So what if it’s only half a story? If it works to serve what he believes to be the greater good, then isn’t a bit of lying worth it? Isn’t the cause greater than the truth? Isn’t the cause the truth anyway, if you’re passionate enough?

And he’s made it work, far better than I have. For this, I concede the point that his methods are effective. In many ways, his goals are the same as mine, so I’ve largely kept my yap shut and restrained myself from the impulse of pointing out the dubious aspects of his efforts. We may approach similar ends using very different means, but it served no purpose to undermine his efforts, especially since they worked exceptionally well.

But now he’s starting a bootcamp. It’s got a brilliant domain, It’s meant only for public defenders, meaning not nasty private criminal defense lawyers. And it’s meant to teach others to do as Hechinger does, spread the gospel.

In September, up to 45 defenders from around the country will convene to learn to leverage traditional and social media, technology, storytelling, language, policy advocacy, collaboration, and campaigns to drive transformative change.

Is it “fake news” just because it’s lies, or at least not quite truth? If this works, meaning that these skills can be taught so that the credible crowd of criminal law voices expands and spreads its gospel to the groundlings who seek reasons to be outraged and demand “transformative change,” they may well make it happen. What that “it” may be remains somewhat elusive.

A few years ago, before Trump, there wasn’t much general interest in crim law issues, and certainly not much knowledge. Now there’s far more interest, and beliefs based on the half-truths artfully spread to appeal to the outrage-seekers, and still not much knowledge. After this boot camp, there may be another 45 voices artfully working the woke into a frenzy. There still won’t be much knowledge, because this isn’t about intellectual honesty or not making people stupider. This is about cranking out support for the cause, no matter what it takes.

As I’m often informed by lawyers much younger and more passionate, my relevance is on the wane. My principles are what’s held back Utopia. What’s with this slavish adherence to facts and logic when a few twists and slips here and there can get the useful idiots worked into a fit? Only an out-of-touch liberal doesn’t grasp that it’s all about the ends, not the means. If the ends are righteous, then the means don’t matter.

Now there’s a boot camp for public defenders to learn how to spread the gospel under the guise of being credible voices for criminal law. I hope they’re right about their ends, even though I don’t think they are, because they’re going to have a far greater impact than a slave to facts and logic. Of course, integrity lost can’t be easily regained.

But maybe they just don’t care and I’m completely wrong about being principled? Maybe the days of old criminal defense lawyers is over and I need to shut up and let the young turks like Hechinger take over. Maybe the days of integrity must yield to the cause. But that’s not me.

23 thoughts on “Short Take: Boot Camp For the Cause

    1. SHG Post author

      More than a hint. I’ve put over a decade into arguing for recognition of the problems in the law and its execution, and reforms. But to be intellectually honest about it, I’ve tried to tell all sides of the problem, which often blunted my thrust. It’s not as if I’ve been overwhelmingly successful in my efforts, or have become anyone’s darling. There will never been a Greenfield Prize for Principle, and the woke kids for reform ridicule me for my lack of wokeness and repulsive politics of facts and logic.

      So am I jealous because of my lack of effectiveness and relevance to the cause? Yes.

      1. Austin Collins

        Where should one place the dozens of screeds you’ve penned roughly stating, “I write for me, not for you,” in context to the dozens of screeds like this one that complain, “No one listens to me?”

        Your intellectual honesty is far from apparent; you routinely and effectively use the same rhetorical devices you excoriate others for employing.

        Scott Greenfield responds to Scott Greenfield would be a bloodbath, and neither would think the other particularly principled.

        1. SHG Post author

          Are you sure that’s what I’m saying here, or have said anywhere else? If I am full of shit, you are absolutely right to call me on it.

        2. David

          You’re wrong on both ends. When SGH says he writes for himself, what he means (I know this because he’s said this) is that he doesn’t write for an ulterior purpose, to gain business or seek prominence, but writes what matters to him and expresses his legit views, even if readers may hate them. He doesn’t owe anyone a crim law post if he feels like writing about admin law, even if nobody here wants to read it. He’s made this clear.

          On the flip side, given that he’s written on an issue, and people have read what he’s written on an issue, the question of whether his writing has any impact has nothing to do with his internal motivation for writing in the first place. It’s there. It’s on a subject. It’s read. What impact, if any, does it have? And he’s not complaining here, but rather noting reality. Maybe that’s too nuanced for you?

          So no, your call of bullshit is wrong and false.

  1. B. McLeod

    Good ol’ SJWs. They start out with feelz and love and inclusiveness, but somehow end up at dogma, thought control, lies, manipulation and hatred (for all those who are agin’ them by not being with them).

    In short, they are Charles Manson, without the guitar.

  2. Howl

    This is not a tummy rub, just a statement of fact. There is at least one non-lawyer reader of your blog who appreciates intellectual honesty, the willingness to see the strengths and weaknesses of all sides of an argument, and the integrity to avoid the moral pitfalls inherent when thinking about ends and means. Thanks for making at least one reader just that one tiny bit less stupider. It matters to that starfish.

    1. Guitardave

      Make that two….and isn’t it at least a little bit comforting to know that the cool people like you…?

    2. M Tadros

      Please never stop writing. Mark Bennett and Ken White rarely update their sites anymore. You’re the only one left.

      Alright, maybe there are other sites, but I haven’t bothered to look because I haven’t had to. Do they update three to five times each day, providing a wealth of articles to read? Do they cover as wide a range of topics as you do? Do they have your sense of humor? Do they have a federal judge regularly commenting, providing his valuable insight? So, again, please never stop writing.

  3. Richard Kopf


    Director of Policy Scott Hechinger is a huckster who could play Professor Harold Hill, a confidence man and traveling salesman, in the Music Man (even though I doubt he can sing). Perhaps you are off Broadway, but I applaud you nevertheless. The truth matters.

    All the best.


    1. SHG Post author

      Is he, or does he realize something I don’t? If goals can be better accomplished through bullshit, what use is truth?

    2. Schmendrick

      The beauty of playing Harold Hill is that you don’t really have to sing…it’s a talker’s role. Appropriate for a fast-talker, no?

      Robert Preston, who played Harold Hill in the famous movie version of the musical, couldn’t really sing all that well either (though, bless him, he did try and try valiantly).

  4. Pedantic Grammar Police

    You’re talking science; they’re preaching religion. And you wonder why they are more popular. Religion is exciting! Science is boring, and hard.

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