top of page
  • bennettandbennett

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:

  1. Building the Criminal-Defense Skunkworks;

  2. Fleshing Out the Criminal-Defense Skunkworks; and

  3. Potential Topics for the 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.))


  1. To advance the art and science of criminal-defense lawyering.

  2. 150 or fewer members.

  3. Criminal-defense innovators.

  4. 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.


  1. Slack Team.

  2. To advance the art and science of criminal-defense lawyering.

  3. 150 or fewer members.

  4. Criminal-defense innovators.

  5. I choose the membership.

If you’re interested, please email me at 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.

1 view

Recent Posts

See All

Under section 46.05(a)(3) of the Texas Penal Code, it is a felony to possess, manufacture, transport, repair, or sell a "prohibited weapon," including a chemical dispensing device. Chemical dispensing

What is Online Solicitation of a Minor? Online Solicitation of a Minor is one of two offenses created by sections 33.021(b) and 33.021(c) of the Texas Penal Code: Sec. 33.021. ONLINE SOLICITATION OF

Facing drug-possession charges can be a harrowing experience with potentially severe consequences. To navigate the complex legal system and protect your rights, you'll need a top drug-possession lawye

bottom of page