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Sui Generis can't handle the truth

I'm a rejected law school applicant. It should come as no surprise that I have spent a lot of time over the past several months thinking about whether or not legal practice would be a good career fit for me. I still don't know. But blogs have been a good source of information and provide good food for thought while I try to decide what I really want to do.

There's a great mix of opinions about law school and legal practice out there. Some love it, some see the good and bad, and some really hate it. Towards the end of one of her characteristically long and passionate posts, Jojo seizes on an important aspect of the law that many people don't seem to consider:

I remember watching TV or reading books about crimes and thinking that I could Never defend a person who I knew was guilty. I still feel this way. However, it never becomes an issue, because I never know the truth.
Ignorance of the facts may make you a better lawyer since you can advocate for your client with a clean conscience, but wouldn't it just drive you crazy? Wouldn't it keep you up at night? How can you go through life without always wondering if you unintentionally aided a horrible criminal, or convicted an innocent person? Apparently, some people can. I don't know that I could.

Categories: law school, work

5 comments:

Menagerie said...

My husband would get very frustrated when, early in law school, I would tell him about cases we'd read and discussed. He would ask, "so what happened?" and I would blankly say, "well, the rule of law that decided was X..." and he would respond, "No, really -- what happened to the defendant/plaintiff/corporation?" and I would say, "Who knows? That wasn't what the case is about." By my second year, he'd figured out he shouldn't even bother asking!

Dave! said...

You're confusing ignorance of the facts with knowledge of the truth. All good lawyers know the facts (as much as they can be known). That is not the same as knowing the truth. Let's get metaphysical: one rarely really knows the truth and I'm not just talking about law.

I could be a defense attorney. Would I worry about defending someone who is guilty? How could I do that? Easy. I would also be defending people who were innocent. But more often than not, I would be defending people who did commit a crime--but not the one they were being charged with (prosecutors often charge greater offenses) or a crime that, let's face it, was a crime of necessity.

Not all criminals are bad people--many are simply poor and destitute, locking them away hardly serves the public.

More, and perhaps most, importantly: our system depends on someone defending those accused of a crime. Guilty or not, we have an adversarial system and those who stand accused deserve the best representation they can get. If they are guilty, if the evidence is beyond reasonable doubt and the prosecution does their job, those people will still go to jail and pay for their crimes (most of the time). If the prosecution has a weak case, then the accused goes free--as they should. Remember, our juries don't render verdicts of Guilty and Innocent. They merely pronounce someone Not-Guilty.

Besides, I have over a half-dozen friends who have been practicing for a decade... you know how many of them have set foot in a courtroom--civil or criminal? One. My wife. And that is just "defending" some people in bankruptcy matters...

The vast majority of attorneys do transactional work, not litigation. And believe me, go to a closing sometime, the facts are known, true, and exceedingly mundane. :)

E. McPan said...

Maybe part of what motivates defense attorneys is that the attorney is there to perpetuate our legal system where every defendant is entitled to a fair and impartial trial and the presumption of innocence. Even if a defense attorney knew "the truth" (which I think would rarely be the case, at least not the whole truth - even the plaintiffs rarely tell their attorneys the whole truth), it's our legal system that protects defendants from overzealous prosecutors, media by trial (well...maybe not, haha), and summary execution.

Then again, I've only done civil work, so what do I know? :)

annie said...

you can always do personal injury! all you're really doing then is squeezing the cash out of the big evil insurance companies, so even when our clients are complete and utter fucknuts (most of the time) i don't feel guilty about working for them even when i don't think they deserve to sue. cause really, it's insurance companies. i can't quite bring myself to feel sorry for them.

CM said...

When I had jury duty this year, I realized that nobody in the room when the alleged crime was committed knew what really happened. They all had different interpretations. So there's no way the lawyers could know the whole truth, and we certainly didn't know it. We just had to listen to everyone's story and do our best to tease out a plausible version of the truth.