Biases Make Bad Lawyers

I remember the first time I represented a known white supremacist. I was a young lawyer, just starting my practice, and his wife paid me to represent him before I knew about his affiliation in that group. I remember the surprise in his eyes when he first saw me, a young black attorney, during my visit to him at the jail, and the surprise in my heart when I saw the swastika tattoo proudly inked on his hand. It was an interesting first client meeting, to say the least. I considered abandoning the representation once I learned his views, but, needing the fee, I put aside my feelings and pressed forward.

His wife was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. She disagreed with his views and hired me because I was black. Throughout the representation, I was always trying to make sure that my feelings were not interfering with what was best for the client. I thought about it a lot. Can I really see past this man’s hatred of racial minorities, including me, and be honest with myself about what his best interest was? I constantly had to check in with myself and manage my fears.

I am glad to report that I was able to obtain a very favorable result for the client. He and his wife were very happy. I learned the value of our constitution and the value of unbiased counsel. Thereafter, I started getting calls from other members of his white supremacist organization seeking my representation.

One of my concerns is that criminal defense lawyers often let bias and fear influence the outcome of cases. It is one of the reasons many of us have concerns about someone who leaves the DA’s office immediately representing people in first degree felony cases as defense counsel.  Unfortunately, it seems the fight of some lawyers is determined by how the client treats them, and the fight of other lawyers is determined by their view of the value of the person they represent. This cannot be. Lawyers simply should not accept representation if they are unable to be truly zealous advocates for their clients.

Some clients are a**holes and treat their lawyers badly. Some are poor and uneducated. But none are predestined to get in trouble or commit crimes. None are disposable and “throw-away- able.” We should not assume that. We have to avoid the mindset that “if it wasn’t this case, he would have just been convicted of another one later on, so it doesn’t really matter.” That mindset will cause us to push our clients into making bad decisions. It will prevent us from viewing the case with critical eyes. It will ensure poor investigation and weak advocacy. It will taint our representation and our reputation.

If you think I am wrong, please let me know. And let me know why. I thought that this article was especially interesting, as it discusses some of the difficulties that have been noted in cases of cross-racial representation, specifically.

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