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.”
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