If you are considering a career in criminal law, you should read Tamara Rice Lave’s thoughtful piece on her experiences as a deputy public defender in San Diego.
I worried Lave’s piece would be a cheesy clichéd story of her great sacrifice for the poor, and the selfishness of corporate lawyers who choose money over martyrdom. She began the piece with the obligatory ‘no one understands my sacrifice’ spiel: “When I graduated from Stanford Law School, I chose to work as a public defender rather than as a corporate lawyer or prosecutor. This was hard for my family and friends to understand.”
But the great thing about the piece is that Lave avoids (in some places narrowly) the cliché of the public interest attorney saving the masses.
Instead, much of the article centers on Rice’s struggle with representing accused criminals, and her attempts to explain to family, friends, and in some cases her own clients, that “those people” are as deserving of legal representation as anyone else.
To justify representing clients she believed to be guilty, Lave “thought like a social worker,” and believed that she could help her clients change their ways. As she matured in her position, it no longer mattered to her whether her client committed a crime, instead she focused on her job as an advocate, “and that means I must present the evidence in the way most beneficial to my client.”