By Anonymous • August 30, 2019•Careers, Nonprofits and the Public Interest
Defense lawyers have a difficult job. While these lawyers work in the confines of the law, and they work similar hours to other lawyers, they carry an ethical burden that a lot of other lawyers do not. A criminal lawyer may defend a murderer or rapist. They can be ethical, or they can be unethical attorneys.
You can work helping inmates on death row clear their names, and this can be a tremendously rewarding experience.
But a criminal lawyer may need to live with the fact that a guilty man is going free. There's also the issue of an innocent man being convicted of a crime that he did not commit. Years of fighting to prove innocence may follow. Look at a recent case in Philadelphia where a juvenile was in jail for over two decades and gave up hope of clearing his name.
A judge surprised both the man’s attorney and the man when the case was reviewed in court and the man was set free.
As a criminal attorney that may have put the man in jail, is it difficult to sleep at night? Did you help convict someone wrongly? Did your legal representation lead someone innocent to be put in jail, or did it lead to a criminal being allowed to walk the streets?
It's a part of ethics that lawyers fully understand, but very few non-lawyers can comprehend it.
Criminal lawyers can carry these burdens, but many have a stance that the jury carries the burden. Lawyers are responsible for getting their clients acquitted or set free, but it’s up to the jury to pass judgment.
Lawyers are human, and some cases hit hard.
The problem is that lawyers have an obligation to help their clients whether or not they’re guilty. When a non-lawyer hears of a lawyer representing a serial killer, they are often in shock at how the lawyer can live with themselves knowing that their client may have been involved in heinous crimes.
Lawyers must trust in the legal system. The legal system outlines that the law is ultimately responsible for determining who is guilty and who is not guilty. Faith in the justice system is the easiest way to overcome the ethical burden that a defense lawyer carries.
If the system deems that the client is guilty, the lawyer can sleep well at night knowing that it was the system that found the client guilty. Some cases hit closer to home than others, and if the lawyer is truly concerned about a verdict, they can choose to help the client through the appeals process.
Some lawyers are so passionate about their clients being found guilty when they’re innocent that they may keep in contact with the client and help them through the appeals process.
An attorney can, in the worst-case scenario, push the burden on to another defense lawyer by recusing themselves.
Defense law can be interesting. Every case is different and you have to absorb yourself into the law, but if ethics keep you up at night, it may be time to put more faith into the justice system than carry the burden yourself.