Why I Do It

A law student reader wrote: “I definitely do enjoy reading your blog and will say it has me rethinking my relegation of a criminal law career.” (I had never seen “relegate” used without a destination; thanks to my correspondent for this elegant locution.)

I went into law school thinking that I wanted to be a criminal-defense lawyer. I’m not quite sure how I reached that conclusion, except that for as long as I can remember I have sympathized with the underdog and spoken up for the apparent transgressor. Borrowing the words of the late great Stuart Kinard, I have always “protected the Lord’s children who have fallen short of perfection from the wrath of those who believe they have attained it.”

For my first-semester criminal law class I had Professor Irene Rosenberg (whom I would call one of the worst teachers ever if she didn’t have competition like this). Irene’s class was so stultifyingly boring that I decided that criminal law was not for me any more, and that I would go chasing after the money working for some corporate firm. Looking back after 12 years of practice, I don’t see how anyone could possibly make criminal law appear so uninteresting except with a deliberate effort. If I can counter Irene’s efforts and turn one law student back on to the defense of the friendless, the broken, and the lost, then I will have accomplished something major.

Having relegated criminal law, I sought a summer associate position during the summer after my first year. I worked for Bell & Murphy, a now-defunct admiralty litigation firm. Lunches generally included beer, and the subject matter — mostly accidents at sea — was interesting.

During my second year of law school, I took classes like commercial transactions, land finance, and mergers and acquisitions. I guess I envisioned myself practicing in some area related to high finance. After that year I had two more clerkships, with Sheinfeld Maley & Kay (which dissolved in 2001) and Corpus Christi’s Gary, Thomasson, Hall & Marks (which bucks the trend by remaining intact). It was a SM&K that I realized that nobody was having any fun. By the time I got to GTH&M I was leaning toward defending people. If Corpus had been a nicer place for a 24-year-old who doesn’t windsurf, I might have been tempted stay and defend corporations against people’s lawsuits, but it wasn’t and I wasn’t.

I got back to law school, stacked the criminal law classes up, joined the criminal defense clinic (UH students: is there such a clinic there now?), and hung out a shingle on graduation. I haven’t regretted it for a moment. As Martin Luther said when Charles V ordered him to recant, “Hier steh’ ich, ich kann nicht anders.”

0 responses to “Why I Do It”

  1. There is a new Criminal Practice clinic at the UH Law Center but it involves criminal prosecution instead of criminal defense.
    One would think that of all the clinics most schools would have, a criminal defense clinic would be somewhere at the top of the list. Alas it is not. Perhaps it is time for some UHLC alums armed with criminal defense experience to help get a clinic going?

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