Until you've had it, it's the dream of every criminal defense lawyer - to get that case. The big one. The one everyone is talking about. That client - the famous one, the one everyone will be watching.
But not the one everyone hates. That's the one we don't take. The one we shy away from because we may look bad, we may get angry calls, and in today's world of marketing ourselves to death - it may affect our "brand."
Consequently, it is only the criminal defense lawyer that finds themselves in this dilemma - having to put oath of attorney above marketing and perception - having to defend the hated, despised, loathed, because it's the obligation of the profession we've chosen. We do this while other practitioners either applaud, or condemn us.
Talking Points Memo describes the events leading up to the call:
After massacring at least 76 people, most of them young members of the Norwegian Labor Party, right-wing zealot Anders Behring Breivik had a request: to be defended by Oslo lawyer Geir Lippestad.
Those following this horrific case closely know that the massacre took place at a Labor Party Youth Camp, Breivik having his issues with the Labor Party.
The story continues to the old "would a Jew defend a Nazi," or "would a African-American defend a member of the KKK,:" Breivik apparently did not know another biographical detail of his lawyer -- Lippestad is himself a member of Labor, the party whose policies of racial tolerance and multiculturalism the killer loathes.
Lippestad, a well known criminal defense lawyer in Norway, simply responded: "Someone has to do this job."
Lippestad went on to describe his thoughts and discussions leading up to his accepting the case:
"My first reaction was that this was too difficult," he said. "But then I sat down with family, friends and colleagues and we said that today is the time to think about democracy, and if I said no to this job, then I would say no to democracy.
Most of us criminal defense lawyers in America wonder what the system is like around the world. We wonder if being a criminal defense lawyer is the same in countries where they don't have a "Bill of Rights." We ask whether other countries have a Fifth Amendment. We wonder whether there are times when a lawyer has to take on a hated defendant.
Geir Lippestad didn't have to take this case. He knew that. He could of said no to the man who is currently the most hated man in the world. His agreement to represent this monster was not for the benefit of the client, but for the benefit of democracy.
Most of us will never be in this position - the thought of having to take on a case like this - to even have to consider it, scares us. We toil in "garden variety" cases and find meaning in paying the bills and getting an occasional dismissal or acquittal.
These are the moments that create lawyers. These are the moments that make websites, direct mail, and your LinkedIn account look meaningless (because they are).
I salute Geir Lippestad. I wouldn't want to be him, but I salute him.
Non-anonymous comments welcome.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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