2016.002: Seeking 150 Criminal-Defense Innovators

In a series of posts almost five years ago I wrote about the idea of a criminal-defense skunkworks:

Since then the project has not gotten far off the ground. I had some discussions with some people, but we all have very busy lives and other jobs took higher priority.

Late last year I ditched gmail for fastmail for better privacy. Fastmail does not have as whizzy a sorting system as gmail, so my lawyer-listserv emails wound up in folders that I didn’t routinely check. When I stopped reading them regularly I realized how wasteful most criminal-defense-lawyer listservs are.

I started the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association listserv with Troy McKinney and we managed it from ’97 or ’98; I was proud of it for a long time; it did a lot of good. But it has outgrown its usefulness to me. It’s been years since I could ask a substantive question there and get a useful answer. There are too many members; too many of them are not serious about criminal defense. There is too much noise, and not enough signal.

Six hundred members are too many for a many-to-many email listserv. It’s too easy for one or two people who think everyone else needs to smell it to fill six hundred people’s email boxes with their shit. Once the nonsense starts, without group disapprobation it snowballs: I started independent listservs for TLC ranch and regional alumni, and even though they were much smaller they quickly devolved to a couple of people crossposting whatever stupid stuff came to their minds.

For a long time listserv members—including some of those who are not serious about criminal defense—have been calling for listserv censorship, for formal rules. Troy and I were always adamantly opposed to the imposition of rules. The listserv was as much a social space as a workplace, and as a free-speech lawyer I bridled at someone telling me what I could or could not say on my creation.

I still don’t think formal rules are a solution to the problem of too much noise and not enough signal on the listserv. The Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association has a listserv with formal rules, and the rules are enforced by the rule enforcers (the TCDLA politburo) against unfavored members only. For rules on a listserv to work, the members would have to agree to the rule of a benevolent dictator, a philosopher-king.

So what is the solution? Obviously, the solution is to gut the listserv and reduce the number of people participating. But I can’t very well do that to the HCCLA listserv (technically, I could, but it would use up my year’s quota of hurt feelings in a day). So I’m starting afresh, building what I think of as a high-functioning criminal-defense lawyers’ group.

Why “high-functioning”? Because the sort of lawyers I most like to correspond with are those who function at a higher level: who look for deeper understanding of why they do things and how to do them better. I’m not talking about the lawyers who go to the Trial Lawyers College (to pick on one particular dogma) and thenceforth try cases the TLC way; I’m talking about  lawyers who adopt what works for them, reject what doesn’t, and look for other ways to improve their trial lawyering. Lawyers like Joey Low, or Norm Silverman.

I envision a group of such lawyers as (to circle back) effectively a criminal-defense skunkworks. Because if you put a bunch of innovative ((I put out a call for innovative lawyers, and one of my friends gave me a couple of names, and described their innovation in trial—trying different approaches with a witness, for example, until the witness gave the correct answer. While innovation on that scale is laudable, I had in mind innovation at a different level: more like John Ackerman’s innovation in bringing psychodrama to trial lawyering.)) lawyers in a room together, together they are going to find better ways of doing things.

How big a group? I like the notion of a group smaller than Dunbar’s Number, which is the theoretical limit on our ability to maintain stable social relationships: about 150.

At first I thought admission to the group should be subject to a black-ball vote: everyone already in the group gets a veto to new members joining. After further consideration, though, I have decided that the group should be a benevolent dictatorship. With the advice of current members, I will decide who joins. And while the list will have no rules, if I make a mistake in admitting someone and they become disruptive to the group’s purpose, which is to advance the art and science of criminal-defense lawyering, I will (again with the advice of the membership) remedy my mistake by removing them. ((That the group will be a benevolent dictatorship may deter some from joining; that’s fine.))


  • To advance the art and science of criminal-defense lawyering.
  • 150 or fewer members.
  • Criminal-defense innovators.
  • I choose the membership.

The question that remains is: what forum? Because this is something new, we are not stuck with email as our communication method. While we know that lawyers are able to use a listserv, we might find something that works better for our skunkworks. Because we are looking for innovators, we can use a more innovative communication system. And because we want higher barriers to entry than criminal-defense listservs have, we can use a communication method with a learning curve.

I like Twitter. Twitter is a many-to-many communication form, but it’s really easy to unfollow, mute, or block the person whose shit you don’t feel a compelling need to smell. Tweets are not delivered to my mailbox; I can dip into Twitter whenever I want. On Twitter I correspond with people who are into different things than I am, or more deeply into things that I am casually into. One of my Twitter friends (@morlockp), who is a computer programmer / farmer in New Hampshire, recently mentioned Slack. I asked him what Slack is, and he described it as ~like Twitter, but private.~ ((The ~ is my convention for a paraphrase. I couldn’t find his tweet to quote it directly.))

I looked into it a bit further, and it looks perfect. We can have a channel for general discussion, a “random” channel for non-work stuff, and any number of channels for discussion of particular topics.



  • Slack Team.
  • To advance the art and science of criminal-defense lawyering.
  • 150 or fewer members.
  • Criminal-defense innovators.
  • I choose the membership.

If you’re interested, please email me at [email protected] Tell me why you’re interested, and if you have some field of study that you are especially interested in exploring, tell me that too.


9 responses to “2016.002: Seeking 150 Criminal-Defense Innovators”

  1. Mark, I’d love to be a part of this. I innovate new techniques every trial and recently got a DRE excluded in a Dwi trial on the basis of junk science.
    I am hesitant to ask for membership, and I know that this type of listserv is only for those who are serious and innovative. I hesitate to ask for membership as Groucho Marx used to say,, any group that would have me as a member I would not join.
    This time I am asking and can contribute cutting edge trial strategy.
    Paul J. Smith
    Board Certified Criminal Law
    926 Chulie
    San Antonio, Texas 78216

  2. Mark- I agree the HCCLA Listserve has become a fairly useless place to talk . 10 years ago, when there were just 300 of us, it was a great forum to rabble rouse. The Listserve afforded me a place to vent about the systems inequities. Others also vented. I think the Listserve and the communal venting helped HCCLA grow enough balls to finally Go after bad judges.

    With the push to increase our membership HCCLA grew to 600+ . HCCLA was diluted. HCCLA members now include Lykos rejects who wish they were still prosecutors. With Tort Reform HCCLA Members also now include a lot of civil lawyers who take criminal cases and don’t know wtf they are doing. I am glad we have 600 members but that number loses its meaning when Many of those members are not really criminal defense lawyers. In my opinion many new members are only members by default. They are “default defense lawyers.” Who would want a dumb default defense lawyer?

    The new Members have all but destroyed the Listserve. You can no longer have a meaningful debate/discussion. You post something meaningful and the next post will be from some asshole asking where he can get new tires for His BMW. Just as bad are the endless sucking noises. Everytime a lawyer wins a speeding ticket, 50 lawyers have to send gushing
    Praise.( I admit I have at times been on the giving and receiving end). But the Listserve, like our membership is diluted.

    I like the idea of a new Listserve. I don’t like dictators even benevolent ones. But Im interested.

    If the person who made the suggestions is who I think it is, why would you label him a friend but not identify him by name?

    Your friend,

    Robb Fickman

  3. Dunbar’s Number is at most 150 for closely knit groups of average people where they spend two thirds of their time in social engagement.

    Lower the number: You won’t spend 2/3 of your time engaging with these people.

    Raise the number: You won’t pick average people.

    Adjust the 150 as appropriate.

  4. Dan Meehan not working for the people but for political with the da. If you got money your free but If not you gone for life. Crupt.

    Redriver co tx
    I need help basically I’ve been bullied and ran over by money hungry lawyers, cops and the da. My boyfriend and I got extinctes from nv to red river for fta . I had a paid lawyer. He with held info and tried to get me to take a deal that I shouldn’t. I went from fron victim. I should have handed better. So I was scared. My boyfriend got arrested at the beginning of December with a bond of 56000. Time I got the money I got arrested with no bond. He got moved here two weeks before me. Still with a bond. I got a bond day after I got there. The the next day, the chef of bogata and da made a call revoked him right before we got him. Next day I was picked up by texas rangers I got picked up. Two weeks later I paid mark lesher 5000 to get us both a bond. The money was a hour late and my grandmother was to whining . he only did mine. Derek is still in jail. My charges are worse. He public offender us related to the da and he will have life with him. My grandmother and I are covering as much as we can . he don’t have anyone. They are punishing and use him because he don’t havey. We are being drained. By money hungry. I don’t care if your guity .please help . im pregnant and I don’t have anyone. I ran scared. We are ready to get this done. I let them take every thing.

    Redriver co tx
    My fiance has been refused medical treatment for a week. He had blood pouring out his ear. Feeling like death. Finally seen after a week and has Lyme disease from a bug bit in the jail.

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