It’s come to my attention that the last paragraph of my last post caused some confusion. So, I wanted to take some time on this rainy Sunday morning to clear it up. First, you all need to know I only can speak from my own experience. Every criminal defense attorney I know and respect is, um, quirky. And, when I say they are willing to help new lawyers out because they like to hear themselves talk, I say it lightheartedly. In fact, as a wise man said to me on Friday, most of us do it because we are paying it forward.
If you’ve read this blog for the past couple of months, you’d see that I’d written about mentorship before. It is incredibly important for new criminal defense lawyers to have people they can go to and ask for help, whether it’s a seemingly simple and straightforward misdemeanor assault or a multi-defendant federal fraud and conspiracy case, every case is a big one to our clients. We can’t afford to fuck any of them up. OK. So we’re on the same page with that, right? I understand that not everyone has a Terry Kindlon to teach them how to do this. That’s a shame. There should be more hard assed, crazy as shit lawyers out there willing to take newbie attorneys under their wing and show them the ropes.
But, I need to make it very plain to any young lawyer that guys like Kindlon are not going to give you a great big hug and tell you everything you do is wonderful. They will tell you if you did poorly, if you fucked up. They will let you know if you are way off base and shake their head in dismay at just how off base you are. If you are looking for ego boosts or “you did great” they aren’t the folks for you.
Mentorship is not about telling you you’re a superstar. It’s about helping you get it right, or at least getting you closer to right than you were before you asked for help. It’s also not about being nice. I published a letter from Terry to me wherein he basically tells me to go fuck myself and my hurt feewings. I know at the time I probably cried when I read it. It’s not nice. It’s the opposite of nice. But in that same letter he tells me to suck it up because I’ve got what it takes. That, my friends, is high praise from the likes of him. Good lawyers are made, not born. But like any other creation, it’s not a simple process. It is painstaking and methodical and requires a great deal of effort. It also requires an incredibly thick skin.
I called Scott Greenfield the other day. Yes, the old curmudgeon. I needed help on a case. He spent over an hour on the phone with me walking me through the steps I’d need to take to establish my defense. He told it to me straight. He didn’t make me think it was going to be a bed of thorn-less roses. Many months ago I called on Trace Rabern and Mark Bennett for help on a post-conviction motion that will (hopefully) change the way we conduct pleas in Maryland. They questioned my premise, they pushed me harder. They helped. I talk frequently to my friend Matt Kaiser, a fellow criminal defense lawyer who used to be a federal P.D. in Maryland. He helps lighten the mood when he can, and as another solo attorney, he understands that we need the constant feedback and give and take to get through a case.
This work is tough. Lives hang in the balance, even in a situation where there is no jail time on the table. If your client applies for citizenship and has been convicted of any sort of crime, he has to disclose and explain. It takes a relatively simple process and makes it complex. You will make mistakes, and it will be terrible. Some you can fix, others you can’t. You will look back on your career with regret, on occasion, and other times you’ll go back over something and smile and say “yeah, I fucking killed that.” But no one can do it without help.
The point is this: Ask for help. Realize that this isn’t about you. You probably don’t know anything, or you know close to nothing. You have questions you don’t even know to ask. Your ego will take a beating, it’s ok. You’ll live.