H. Michael Steinberg has 38+ years of experience practicing Colorado criminal law. Mr. Steinberg strives to stay current with the ever changing aspects of criminal law issues and updates resulting in his extensive knowledge of successful criminal defense as well as appellate work. He is also an active member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar Association, the Colorado Trial Lawyer's Association, and the Colorado and Arapahoe Bar Associations.
Published on:

Why You Really DON’T Want a Pitbull Lawyer

KW: Colorado Criminal Defense Lawyer,Why, You Really DON’T Want a Pitbull Lawyer,By H. Michael Steinberg – Colorado Criminal Defense Lawyer

Introduction – Why You Really DON’T Want a Pitbull Lawyer

After practicing of criminal law on both sides of the courtrooms of Colorado for the last 40 years I have learned a few things. One of those things is that the popular media-driven image of a bulldog-like attorney who barks and snaps at everyone in the system with the sole intention of impressing an audience of one – their client – poses a danger to that client of major proportions.

The harm done to the client’s case by the “pitbull lawyer”  is often never realized until it is too late and sometimes years later.

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up – Florida Lawyer Stops Pitbull Lawyer Ads

In 2020, the Florida Bar association filed a formal complaint against a lawyer in Jacksonville after he refused to comply with multiple Bar directives to take down his ads which portrayed him as a “pitbull lawyer.”

The Bar Association relied upon a decision by the Florida Supreme Court that held that ads invoking the breed of dog known as a “pitbull:

“[D]emeans all lawyers and thereby, harm both the legal profession and the public’s trust and confidence in our system of justice.”

An Intelligent Approach To Practicing Criminal Law

Nearly everyone involved on the inside of the criminal justice system admires those lawyers who exercise strategic aggression and tenacity in the defense of a criminal case. The use of this skill set can be, when necessary, (especially at trial), can be a very valuable asset in the courtroom … at trial for example.

However, as the United States Supreme Court has recently observed, very few cases actually go to jury trial. By far the largest percentage of criminal oases resolve by a settlement agreement known as a plea bargain. Unlike  the kind of constitutional trial rights that apply to a jury trial – there is NO RIGHT to a plea bargain. Plea bargains are almost always the subject of thoughtful, careful, and often lengthy negotiations.

No principle of justice rooted in our constitutional order entitles a defendant to receive, accept, or enforce a plea offer.

Very much to the contrary, the Supreme Court has explained (repeatedly) that a plea offer is a matter of executive grace—not constitutional right or even contract—and so affords the defendant no enforceable rights unless and until the plea is embodied in the judgment of a court.

                                                             Williams v. Jones, 583 F.3d 1254, 1259 (10th Cir. 2009)

Credible and well accepted research across the United States documents that plea bargains, not jury verdicts, account for 95 to 97% of final settlements in ALL of the states and in the federal criminal justice systems.

It has been my experience after 14 years as a Senior Deputy District Attorney followed by 26 years as a criminal defense lawyer, so called “pitbull” attorneys who are overly aggressive and obnoxiously antagonistic hinder the plea bargaining process and make it more difficult to reach a settlement or resolution that is in the best interests of their client.

The necessary trust and mutual respect that must exist between a prosecutor and a defense lawyer, the trust that is vital to all successful negotiation, is the result of a level-headed and diplomatic approach.

Diplomacy, not rank intimidation, almost always is the better option if a fair resolution of the case is the goal. The breakdown of negotiations leads inevitably to the unknowable risks of trial and the possible destruction of the life of the accused especially in cases involving of serious crimes.

While trial may be the best resolution in a hotly contested case, it is rarely the first or preferred option.

What Clients Want In Their Colorado Criminal Defense Lawyers

It is axiomatic that defendant’s justifiably want their criminal defense lawyer to be aggressive and tenacious. However it is commonly accepted that the very best criminal defense lawyers begin with a total mastery of the facts of their case and evidence in the case then followed by careful preparation for the negotiations for their meetings with opposing counsel. This is the work that makes the difference and are the actual – not so exciting – tools for successful negotiations.

Pitbull lawyers attempt to use overt aggression as a facade to hide the truth that they are either not truly prepared or are largely just “winging it” in the courtroom with some minor understanding of the facts and evidence in the case.

“Grandstanding” – staging a war with the DA purely for show stands in stark contrast to the kind of civility, professionalism, and mutual respect that work to actually obtain the best results for those accused of serious criminal acts.

Fighting without without strategy and cause, and without a a coherent plan, can bring a high cost to the client. Fighting for the sake of fighting makes no sense.

Reputation Matters

The impact of having a so-called “pitbull” lawyer is well known by those of us on the inside of the criminal justice system. As a former career prosecutor in Arapahoe and Douglas counties, I did not fear the pitbull lawyer. To the contrary, I abhorred that lawyer, and while I would try to work with the pitbull, the case  almost never ended well for their clients.

“GORT” is a phrase well known to all prosecutors and defense lawyers. It is a kind of “inside baseball” term commonly used to describe the result of trying to negotiate in good faith with a pitbull lawyer and failing.  GORT essentially means no deals:


The High Cost Of A Path Of Destruction

While it IS essential to retain a passionate legal representative who cares and is zealously dedicated to the client’s cause, it is equally essential for that lawyer to maintain a professional demeanor and adhere to ethical standards both inside and outside the courtroom.

Lawyers who have a reputation for being overly aggressive or combative, reflect poorly on their client’s and ultimately can destroy a criminal defendant’s chances of success.

Every Judge, every court clerk, every district attorney – and even the sheriff’s in the courtroom and others in law enforcement hold “pitbull” lawyers in low esteem. While the unwitting client may not know who these lawyers are – those of us who practice law or who otherwise work daily in the courtrooms of Colorado -are well aware of these lawyers.

Judges and other legal professionals have little respect or admiration for the path of destruction left behind as these lawyers repeatedly cross the line of professionalism in an obvious and shallow attempt to impress their clients. These same clients are victims of the media’s distorted view of how the criminal justice system works in reality.

A Lawyer You Can Talk To And Who Puts Your Interests Above Their Own

Ultimately, a client’s goal will be to find an attorney whose values align with their own – an effective and well respected lawyer who will work tirelessly to achieve the best result in that client’s case while still adhering to the ethical and professional standards that generate the respect of that lawyer’s peers in the Colorado criminal justice system.

Corny? .. yes – but the truth speaks for itself and becomes especially obvious over time.

Summary and Conclusion – Why You Really DON’T Want a Pitbull Lawyer

The practice of criminal defense law in Colorado requires an intelligent approach not defined by the form of irrational rancor and hostile tactics employed by so called “pitbull lawyers,” … but by focusing on the client-centered, measured, and ethical practice of law.

There are no short cuts here.

Professionals know that it takes hard work to develop the kind of trust between the parties that is required to reach the results demanded by the client – the person to whom the lawyer owes the highest duty of care – the fiduciary duty of care.

There are many excellent Colorado criminal defense lawyers who are highly experienced and knowledgeable about the legal nuances of Colorado criminal law and who can defend you successfully. These are the lawyers who fight hard for their clients using every tactic, strategy and rule available to them to get the charges against their clients dismissed, dropped, or reduced.

A “pitbull lawyers” personal need to cut a swath of destruction to satisfy their ego by leaving a path of disgust and anger in the very courtrooms in which they are charged to help their clients achieves nothing and almost certainly NOT the best result for those facing criminal charges in what is often the most frightening and overwhelming experience of their lives.

Wrong thinking: unbridled aggression always assures victory.

Thoughtful “Legal Aggression”

Finally, it should be noted that there will be times when zealous advocacy does require a kind of controlled and thoughtful “legal aggression” – but my experience – the result of a lifetime of practicing criminal law in Colorado and working with thousands of judges, lawyers, and clients – has demonstrated to me that it is the professional, courteous, and truly “smart lawyers” who achieve the most effective results for their clients. Seasoned and experienced lawyers are careful never to ratchet up the emotions of those involved because the years have taught them that the tactics of the “pitbull lawyer” are (please forgive me) rabidly counter-productive.

Colorado Criminal Law – Why You Really DON’T Want a Pitbull Lawyer

The reader is alerted to the fact 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.

BEST-STANDING-CHOICE-200x300ABOUT THE AUTHOR: H. Michael Steinberg – Email The Author at: hmsteinberg@hotmail.com

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.”

Putting more than 40 years of Colorado criminal defense experience to work for you.

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 40 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.

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.