What They didn’t teach you at the Law School
Law School prepares you to think, write and research like a lawyer, but once you’re at the door of a law firm or a courtroom, there’s a whole new set of skills you need. The present series of articles aims to enrich a new lawyer with all these skills in order for him/her to excel.
If you’re thinking of practicing as a criminal defence lawyer, get ready to face this question every now and then: “How can you represent those people?” All criminal defence lawyers are asked this; most would give a standard reply like how the system can’t work without good lawyers on both sides, or the harshness of punishment or the excessive number of people locked up in this country.
Criminal defence is, for the most part, defending the factually guilty -people who have done something wrong, though may be not exactly what is alleged.
Defence lawyers try to find the humanity in the people they represent, no matter what they may have done. Though such lawyers are accused of investing all their sympathy in their clients and having none for the victims, it’s not always true. Sometimes clients, who, for a variety of reasons, have committed crimes, are not necessarily evil.
They are damaged, deprived or in distress. Their crimes can be understood as the products of their awful lives, or of being young, hot-headed and lacking in judgment, or of not having the mental wherewithal to know what they were doing.
So even though you have a right to refuse any case you want, that does not necessarily imply that you should. Your client might have done something wrong but he still needs help; he needs to be represented fairly. He cannot be left to suffer the wrath of the other side unchecked.
Then there could be a truly innocent person prosecuted wrongfully. Unless you represent such a person and present his side of the story how would he be saved from the undeserving sentence?
As a lawyer it is your obligation to represent all clients zealously within the bounds of law and ethics; it is not for you to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused. Zealous representation requires subordinating all other interests – ideological, career, personal – to the legitimate interest of the client. Imagine yourself to be a surgeon in the operating room whose only goal is to save the patient, whether that person is a good person or a bad person, a saint or a criminal.
Your client might have confessed to the crime, but did he really do it? May be he’s covering for someone close to him; or may be the police coerced him to confess; or may be he is guilty of a crime but a lesser one. It is an extremely rare case in which you would know for sure that your client is guilty and that there are no mitigating considerations.
If you choose to represent clients facing death penalty or rigorous imprisonment, it doesn’t mean you sympathise with murder, rape, robbery or corporate crime. It’s just that we all believe in the process of our justice system which requires zealous advocacy, scrupulous compliance with constitutional safeguards and the rule of law.
So, as a lawyer, you just need to represent those most in need of zealous advocacy, without regard to any other considerations.