A Colorado Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Thoughts About The Job – After fourteen years as a career prosecutor in Arapahoe County Colorado followed by twenty one years on the defense side of the courtroom, I believe I am qualified to write about why the defense side of the courtroom may be the more meaningful for a young lawyer.
The attorney functions in an adversary system based upon the
presupposition that the most effective means of determining truth
is to present to a judge and jury a clash between proponents of
It is essential to the effective functioning of this
system that each adversary have, in the words of Canon 15, “entire
devotion to the interest of the client, warm zeal in the maintenance
and defense of his rights and the exertion of his utmost learning
There is no “law based” job that is perfect. All lawyers will tell you about the difficulties in their respective sub-specialties so, here’s the thing, I believe that the rewards of representing people in crisis in a criminal case stands apart from any other practice of law.
The satisfaction of fighting the Government on behalf of the accused cannot be underestimated.
Criminal defense lawyers draw on a much deeper skill set than their opponents, State prosecutors. As I have extensive lifetime professional experience in both jobs, I believe I am qualified to make this observation.
Criminal defense lawyers must develop a more thorough understanding of people than other lawyers or they will never succeed. Criminal defense lawyers must have the kind of intuitive skills that assist in the decision to be firm and direct with a client when necessary and when to be supportive and compassionate when the stage of the case calls for empathy.
Knowing the difference is the result of years of practice.
If a lawyer wishes to be a criminal defense lawyer, he or she must be a person who understands and who genuinely likes and wants to be with … people. As trite as it sounds, if you’re not a “people person,” an extrovert who genuinely likes people, you should go into another area of law – perhaps Trademark or Patent law.
If you are not a person who has an affinity for people and the complexity of their lives – you will never be able to “ride the waves” of a criminal defense practice.
Communication Skills – Clarity – NO Ambiguity
Again, it may seem obvious, but top grade “communication skills” are the single most important skill set when representing persons who are charged with crimes. When emotional problems, mental health problems, substance-abuse problems and anxiety problems arise, as they always do, a criminal defense lawyer must penetrate the noise that will exist between the client and the case.
“Criminal law is largely an exercise in human understanding.”
Little Time To Reflect
Most criminal defense lawyers find little time for introspection. Their caseloads dominate their lives all day every day. A criminal defense lawyer’s clients are not concerned about money damages as in civil cases, They have been plunged into the chaos of a system that moves very fast and is very frightening.
The impact of any criminal case on the Defendant, his family and friends is life changing.
People who are charged with crimes have emotions at their rawest. They are at their weakest and most vulnerable. They are being tested in the crucible of the criminal courtroom and have little time to catch their breath in this “emotional cauldron.”
On The Other Hand An Effective Criminal Defense Lawyer Cannot Become Emotionally Involved With The Client – Remaining Objective
Over 40 years ago I was volunteering as a young intern in a Legal Aid Office in Springfield, Massachusetts. My job was to screen cases for the overworked and underpaid legal aid lawyers in the back room.
One of the first screens I did was a young mother whose many problems, legal and otherwise, were overwhelming. I held her hand, and I actually let her place her head on my shoulder. I try to console her.
I later left her in the outer office and proceeded to summarize the case for the senior lawyer in the office.
I will never forgot that lawyer’s response when I … quite emotionally… explained this poor woman’s situation. The senior lawyer looked at me coldly and said, bluntly and very pointedly and directly, “you are doing this woman no good if you emotionally bond with her, she has come here for help, stand up and be a professional – tell her you are here to help her with her legal issues and only her legal issues and then help her!.”
Bottom line, to be effective, you have to keep your distance. If you become emotionally involved, you lose your impartiality, your objectivity, This only hurts your client. For that reason, I am always direct and unambiguous with my clients at every stage of the case. Most clients are appreciative – but some are not.
Getting To The Facts – Again, Clarity
An experienced criminal defense lawyer cannot act as a therapist – it distracts from the task at hand. Professional responsibility requires that a true advocate have, not only full knowledge of the facts, but a comprehensive understanding of those facts. The lawyer dominates the facts and not let the facts dominate the lawyer. A good lawyer will always get to the truth of what actually happened.
Criminal defense lawyers are not their client’s best friend when it comes to learning the facts of a case. The lawyer should push, pry, and even cross examine the client and other witnesses if necessary to obtain the full truth. Full and complete confidential disclosure to the criminal defense lawyer by their client is critical for the lawyer to comprehensively assess the issues in the case and determine the best approach to defending the case.
This process can be painful with some clients. They react angrily when pushed on the facts and instructed to leave their opinions for later – but this process is absolutely necessary to vigorously defend a criminal case.
If You Are To Be A Successful Criminal Defense Lawyer You Must Love The Courtroom
I have been in one courtroom or another in Colorado almost every single day for the last 36 years. I am as comfortable in the courtroom as I am at my own home… savoring the excitement of the unique nature of court nearly every day. I thrive in this environment. Most lawyers either feel this level of desire to be in court or they fear the courtroom and avoid it.
Your lawyer must earn his or her living in the courtroom everyday. If your lawyer cannot handle the roller-coaster of the criminal litigation environment – the tough, highly charged, pressure laden, stressful world of the courtroom, then criminal defense law is not an area of law in which they should practice.
In the criminal courtroom every day is different. Case issues change constantly, especially at trial. It is extraordinarily dynamic. I have heard it said,
“The courtroom is more like a dance than it is a science.”
The Satisfaction Of Protecting Your Client’s Right To Liberty
A criminal defense lawyer knows his or her client’s right to liberty makes criminal cases different, more important, even life changing. Because of this truth a special bond is of trust is created between the criminal defense lawyer and the client. If and when the lawyer achieves a result for their client that no one thought possible, that bond can become life long.
A criminal defense lawyer must have a deep motivation to represent the underdog. These lawyers face the might and entire weight of the justice system. When the power of the State comes down hard a client, he is the advocate that fights their battle using the law as his weapon.
The criminal defense lawyer represent the person, not their crime. “Good people make mistakes” is not just a trite expression, it is true. In my eyes, my client’s mistakes do not define them or their lives. Many of my clients, if not the majority, ARE good people who have made one mistake.
The Constitution guarantees all Defendant’s the right to fight, to have their day in court and to use the strength of the Constitution of the United States to wage war.
Understanding Your Lawyer’s Role On The Issue Of Guilt Or Innocence
The legal system works differently in a criminal case. A Defendant is presumed to be innocent. The burden is ALWAYS on the State – the prosecution – to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant is guilty.
A plea of not guilty does not necessarily mean “not guilty in fact.” It may mean “not legally guilty.” Even the Defendant knows that he committed the crime, he is entitled to put the Government to its proof. This includes an absolute constitutional right to remain silent.
Your Criminal Defense Lawyer Should Have “No Life”
Forget a healthy work / life balance – if you want to be a successful criminal defense lawyer. People are not arrested at convenient times. They are arrested at night, on weekends and on holidays. Your criminal defense lawyer should understand this and try like heck to make their cell phone available when YOU need them.
A criminal defense lawyer should strive to keep his or her cell phone always on. This of course makes planning a life difficult. Court cases take longer than expected – cases run into each other in different counties – clients bring you court dates that conflict and do not clear your calendar.
Criminal defense law is chaos. Your lawyer must adapt and remain vigilant to constant change.
The work is very demanding. It is not for meek or the weak. If a criminal defense lawyer is not willing to work hard – do something else less demanding.
Summary And Conclusion- A Colorado Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Thoughts About The Job
Setting expectations for clients in criminal cases is difficult. My practice, as I noted above, is to be direct, straight-up and honest with my clients. Managing expectations in the volatile environment of the criminal courtroom is probably the single most difficult task facing the criminal defense lawyer.
After 36 years (2018) of practicing only criminal law, I firmly believe criminal law is the most challenging and rewarding law there is..if the lawyer is right for the job and if the lawyer has the right stuff for the job.
To those of you reading this article, I strongly recommend hiring experienced criminal defense lawyers whose practice is, and always has, been limited to criminal defense. This is not the time to retain a lawyer whose practice does a little of this, a little of that.
A Colorado Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Thoughts About The Job
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The contents of this article are based upon my research, my personal experience and my personal analysis and opinions developed from my thirty six years (as of 2017) of criminal trial experience from both sides of the courtroom – as a former career prosecutor for Arapahoe and Douglas Counties (13 years) and as the owner of my own Criminal Defense Law Firm since 1999 (18 years).
The reader is also admonished that Colorado criminal law, like criminal law in every state and at the Federal level, changes constantly. The article appearing above was accurate at the time it was drafted but it cannot account for changes occurring after it was uploaded.
If, after reading this article, you have questions about your case and would like to consider retaining our law firm, we invite you to contact us at the Steinberg Colorado Criminal Defense Law Firm – 303-627-7777.
Never stop fighting – never stop believing in yourself and your right to due process of law. You will not be alone in court, H. Michael will be at your side every step of the way – advocating for justice and the best possible result in your case. H. Michael Steinberg is passionate about criminal defense. His extensive knowledge and experience of Colorado Criminal Law gives him the edge you need to properly handle your case
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: H. Michael Steinberg – Email The Author at:
A Denver Colorado Criminal Defense Lawyer – or call his office at 303-627-7777 during business hours – or call his cell if you cannot wait and need his immediate assistance – please call 720-220-2277.
“A good criminal defense lawyer is someone who devotes themselves to their client’s case from beginning to end, always realizing that this case is the most important thing in that client’s life.”
You should be careful to make a responsible choice in selecting a Colorado Criminal Defense Lawyer. We encourage you to “vet” our firm. Over the last 36 plus years – by focusing ONLY on Colorado criminal law – H. Michael has had the necessary time to commit to the task of constantly updating himself on nearly every area of criminal law, to include Colorado criminal law and procedure and trial and courtroom practice.
Putting more than 36 years of Colorado criminal defense experience to work for you.
H. Michael works hard to get his clients the best possible results in and out of the courtroom. He has written, and continues to write, extensively on Colorado criminal law and he hopes this article helps you in some small way – A Colorado Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Thoughts About The Job.