The Courthouse: Designed to Intimidate
Being charged with a criminal offense is a disconcerting experience. No matter how well-educated, street smart, or emotionally strong you are, judicial proceedings are unnerving. The judge, usually stoic or a bit disdainful, seems all-powerful. The prosecutor determined to portray you in the worst possible light. The police report, with all its inaccuracies, is accepted as gospel. The rules by which the charges will be resolved are archaic and unfamiliar, serving a vague, undefined objective. No one, not the judge, the prosecutor, nor any court personnel show much interest in determining what really happened in your case. With so much at stake, shouldn’t someone be taking an impartial look at your case?
But with the courtroom packed with so many individuals accused of crimes, it seems unlikely that someone with authority will single out your case for the attention it deserves. Worse yet, no one, not the judge, the prosecutor, nor any of the court personnel is willing to explain to you how the process works – they are obsessed with following the process and nothing more. To any question you ask, you’ll almost always be told, “Ask your lawyer.” And any explanation you receive will be incomprehensible legal babble.
Your Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer will represent your only avenues to the prosecutor and the judge. He is the only one who will listen to you, investigate your case, and explain the process to you. He will be the only person to take an interest in you as a human being. He won’t just represent you, he will represent your only shot at justice. Who can you entrust with so much responsibility? Who do you trust with your life?
Selecting a Cambridge Criminal Defense Lawyer
Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them to get on with it. Look for people who will aim for the remarkable, who will not settle for the routine.
To an individual recently charged with a crime, particularly a felony, there is no more important task than choosing the right lawyer. But, under extreme pressure of feeling persecuted, selecting a lawyer from the myriad of websites is difficult. Every lawyer, after all, touts his experience, lists his victories, promises to “aggressively” represent you or your loved one, be available to you 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and to leave no task undone in his drive obtain an acquittal for you. How can a person choose among so many great lawyers?
“Great” Criminal Lawyers
Becoming a forceful, capable trial lawyer is largely self-taught, and few lawyers spend the time required to master their craft. That the lawyer possesses a law degree matters little; law schools, while graduating thousands of eager beavers each year, do very little to provide their students with the fundamental basics they need to succeed, or even survive, in a courtroom. As Gerry Spence noted, “Although every law school offers a course in trial practice, and while some permit their students to take part in certain clinical programs, the truth is that no law student in America receives competent training in the art of advocacy, and left to their own devices, many never acquire it let alone perfect it, in an entire career at the bar.”
Should You Hire a Large Law Firm?
Large law firms traditionally represent big money corporations. They specialize in high finance, defending corporations/insurance companies against civil lawsuits and padding their enormous bills with expensive lunches and limousines rides. In the civil litigation arena, they’re goal is not win the trial, but to bankrupt the opposition by making the lawsuit unbearably expensive for them to litigate. These lawyers bury the opposing lawyer in a torrent of paper, burden him with frequent and largely unnecessary court appearances, and frustrate him with endless foot-dragging in complying with discovery orders.
Lawyers from large law firms actually try few cases. While partners wine and dine C.E.O.s and drive over-worked associates to bill even more hours, junior partners may be getting their first crack at preparing a case for trial. If you want to hire a lawyer to try your case, you need a trial lawyer who cares about you as an individual, who has sharpened his trial skills through countless courtroom battles, and who connects with the men and women on the jury – not an aloof, Ivy League graduate who realizes only too late that jurors resent being condescended to. If you believe you will be best served by making a deal with the prosecution, you need a defense lawyer with experience in negotiating with assistant district attorneys, not bankers.
Winning Cambridge Trial Lawyers
Lawyers always characterize themselves as “aggressive.” No criminal defense lawyer can succeed without being aggressive, but it’s just a small part of what makes a consistently successful lawyer. A highly skilled boxer will always defeat a mindlessly aggressive opponent. A winning lawyer has all of the following skills and/or attributes:
- Mastery of criminal law. Viable legal issues are opportunities to gain an advantage in the “game” of litigation.
- Superior writing skills. Motions and briefs matter. A well-written brief can mean the difference between a favorable or unfavorable ruling – a ruling that may cripple the government’s case against you.
- Patience. So much of what a trial lawyer does to prepare for trial requires patience – the patience to listen to the nervous client, to find the perfect Supreme Court opinion that seals a motion, to re-read the police reports, and to deal with, at times, brazenly obtuse prosecutors.
- Perception. Correctly reading people and situations is vital. Grasping what is happening beneath the surface separates the legendary from the adequate.
- Focus. Winning trials takes single-minded focus. Clues, such as witness demeanor, inconsistencies, juror body language, etc., surround a lawyer during a trial. Only with laser-like focus can a lawyer pick up so many useful clues – clues that can save a client from the abyss.
- Integrity. It cannot be faked. Developing trusting relationships with the client, prosecutor, judge and, most importantly, the jury is paramount. No lawyer, no matter how skilled, can succeed without integrity. Juries instinctively know when a lawyer is trustworthy. Distrusted trial lawyers escort their clients to a prison cell.
- Highly developed cross-examination skills. Great oratory, eloquence and passion are frosting. Cross-examination is the cake. Cross-examination is the reason for a trial. Effective cross-examination wins trials. If the criminal defense lawyer fails to discredit the government’s witnesses, the trial is likely lost. And if he destroys these witnesses, he can win the seemingly lost cause.
- Exceptional communication skills. To persuade a judge or a jury to adopt the defense’s contentions a lawyer must not only choose his words carefully, he must also bring that argument to life with colorful, resonating descriptions. A trial is a duel between competing narratives – and often the lawyer who tells the better, more vibrant story wins.
- Aggression. Aggression, tempered by reason and astute perception, is the foundation of trial success.
- Toughness. A trial attorney often takes a beating in a courtroom. To withstand the pressure and the inevitable setbacks, he must possess an indomitable spirit. Otherwise, authoritarian judges and sniping prosecutors will swallow him whole.
- Neighborly charm. Trials can be long, tedious affairs. Jurors are not allowed to speak, walk around, or hurry things along. They’re trapped in the jury box. Many feel as if they’re being held hostage to interminable side-bar discussions between the judge and the lawyers. Some jurors come to despise one or more of the lawyers. The lawyer who possesses a little charm and a sense of humor can ease the jurors’ building tension and frustrations with the judicial process.
Clues to a Winning Criminal Lawyer
Spotting the incompetent lawyer may require little more than simply listening to him for five minutes. But, distinguishing between the mediocre, good and exceptional lawyers may require a little digging. Here are some clues to identifying the extraordinary trial lawyer among the thousands of suits available to take your case.
- Secretarial/paralegal staff. Secretaries and paralegals lift a major burden from the shoulders of even the most tireless lawyer. If lawyer cannot afford a secretary, he may not enjoy a very lucrative practice. Moreover, he will waste precious time on mundane tasks that would be better spent preparing for your next hearing or trial.
- Website Design & Content. A lawyer’s skill level may be best assessed by examining his website, for websites now represent a lawyer’s most effective tool to market his services. The effort he put into his website likely reflects his commitment to his practice and, most importantly, his clients. Did he find a quality graphic designer to create a professional website or did he settle for something less tasteful? Is it well organized? Most lawyers write the content for their websites. Is the content well written, informative, and persuasive? Does it demonstrate a real expertise in the subject matter? The attention to detail he pays to his website may reflect his overall attention to detail.
- Membership in Criminal Defense Organizations. Serious lawyers join associations like the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. These associations usually publish monthly magazines to keep their membership abreast of the latest developments in the lawyer’s particular field and sponsor seminars to teach trial skills.
- Ethical Record. The State Bar oversees lawyer discipline and maintains records of attorney reprimands for unethical behavior. Obviously, a criminal defense lawyer who fails to comply with the rules of ethics may not be the best choice.
- Publicity. Top lawyers are consistently retained to represent those individuals accused of the most publicized crimes. Yet, how the attorney handles the media attention reveals much about his priorities. Did he exercise discipline when answering questions? Was he more interested in publicizing himself than in protecting his client?
- His Record. Nearly every criminal defense lawyer publicizes his victories, but his skills are better revealed by the consistency of his results. Does he disclose his overall record? Is he willing to answer such a question? Assessing the likelihood that he can achieve success for you can be best gauged by his overall record.
Kevin J. Mahoney is a Cambridge criminal defense lawyer, author of Relentless Criminal Cross-Examination, and on-air legal analyst. Call 617-492-0055 to schedule a free in-office consultation with Attorney Mahoney. He would be delighted to meet with you to discuss your case, advise you honestly, and do his best to navigate you to safety.