In this "tough on crime" "Law & Order" world we live in, there is a notion that prosecutors and cops (except the ones who are taser happy) are the good guys, and defense lawyers are "the problem." It is assumed that all prosecutors are in the right, doing the right thing, and committed to the concept of convictions and jail.
And then a defense lawyer (me) receives an email like this:
I apologize for the anonymity of this e-mail. I am indeed a disgruntled prosecutor.
I’m writing to you because I need some advice.
You see before I became a prosecutor I was a defense lawyer. I built my practice the old fashioned way – one client at a time with a healthy dose of referrals from other lawyers.
After a while the frustration of criminal defense work got the better of me and I applied for and was given a position as a prosecutor.
The truth is that I took the job for all the wrong reasons: financial stability and to have a shorter workday and not because I had a burning desire to prosecute people.
Well, I’ve been at this for a few years now and my dislike for what I do has gotten so bad that I can’t look at myself in the mirror anymore without seeing nothing but a fraud. I don’t believe in what our office does, I cringe at the arguments I make in court and I spend most of my days fantasizing about how I will quit.
I want to return to defense work. If anything, my time as a prosecutor has shown my just how defense minded I really was (and still am). I would leave my job tomorrow but my wife and I have young children now, a mortgage and bills. The economy is not the greatest and as much as I hate my job, walking away from a job that pays me over 100K a year with benefits and a pension so I can hang my shingle – essentially jumping into the unknown – leaves me scared shitless!
If anything this e-mail is a cry for help!
Any credible defense lawyer wants a prosecutor that, while doing the government's work, has some concept and respect for the defense function. I've always said that any prosecutor that has no respect for the other side of the courtroom, should quit or be fired immediately. (don't laugh).
But my anonymous friend is so committed to the defense function, that he needs to quit, tomorrow. He doesn't believe in what he is doing, and although there is no evidence he's not doing his job, he is being both unfair to himself, and his office. There are too many on both sides of the criminal justice system, that are just "doing their job" without any concern for the lives they are affecting.
There are those out there in this social media lawyer world that will scoff at my notion that this guy should walk away from his six figure job, but he should. He doesn't have a job, he is part of a profession, and within that profession he is working each day to convict people and possibly put them in jail. He doesn't want to do that, and he shouldn't.
But he should be smart about his future. He needs to give sufficient notice, and make sure he has enough funds to keep him fluid for a couple months. He needs to go back to building his practice as he did - one client as a time. He needs to stay away from the online snake oil salesmen who, for a fee, will claim to teach him the secrets of practicing law by laptop. And he needs to know that the economy is not what it was 2 or 3 years ago. Clients are not able to tap into lines of credit for legal fees, and there are more unemployed lawyers claiming to be "experienced" criminal defense lawyers - even though they are really experienced real-estate lawyers, without any real estate on which to work.
I trust he welcomes your advice as well.
Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. Post to Twitter
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