Joe Mockus is our tenth Legal Highlight. Mockus is a criminal defense attorney in northern California and a poet.
Please click back to the first of the Legal Highlights to learn about the Legal Highlights process and the reason behind this feature which focuses on what is right and working well in the legal profession. Here are all the Legal Highlight interviews.
And now read on the see what this Legal Highlight has to say in response to the seven questions . . .
1) Think about your recent experience in the legal profession and of a specific incident or event that made you feel extremely satisfied or proud. Give a brief description of the incident or event. The reasons I felt satisfied or proud were . . .
While much of the practice of criminal defense involves heartbreak, disappointment, and ferrying people through tragedy, it definitely provides days where one feels that you can actually help someone in need. In my office we deal with dozens of cases every day, but this week at a sentencing where we had done a substantial amount of work, a case where state prison seemed inevitable resulted in a probationary sentence with a condition of drug treatment. Knowing that only years of experience and “reading the room” correctly led to the result, I was pleased, and my client’s family was overjoyed. Ten minutes later, on to the next case.
2) I attended law school because . . .
I wanted to be a writer, and had traveled and worked at various jobs throughout my twenties until finally I felt I should explore a field where I could use some of my talents (without wearing out my body). I went to law school in my early thirties, and had several friends who had gone before me, so it seemed “doable” and interesting. I hedged my bets though, and went to grad school in literature at the same time during second year.
3) I would recommend the practice of law because . . .
I would recommend the practice of law because, cliché alert, you can make a difference. At first doing criminal defense, I liked it for the short stories that every case entailed. Seeing the police reports and then hearing your client’s side (always differences), and the reasons whatever happened had happened. Then as one becomes more skilled you realize that finessing your client through the system, knowing when to fight and when to deal, and working each case to at least a semblance of a just result approached an ennobling experience. Other fields I’m sure engender similar feelings, but in criminal defense you are fighting for a person’s constitutional rights, and taking on the government in one of its most onerous functions: depriving persons of their liberty.
4) My colleagues who practice law appreciate doing so because . . .
Every person has his or her own reasons for continuing to practice law: some noble, some mercenary, some to satisfy ego or need for action, some out of sheer inertia. The best among my colleagues do it for some of the reasons I’ve stated above, but also it becomes an intellectual and social milieu—in other words colleagues and adversaries become the people (often smart and interesting) that you’ve spent your working life with, and especially some criminal defense lawyers in their late sixties and seventies continue to represent accused persons because they love it.
5) The benefits lawyers contribute to society are . . .
Again from the narrow prism of criminal defense, you are the caretakers of constitutional rights—if you don’t fight for them in court, they erode and disappear. Conversely, the best prosecutors seek justice, not just convictions, and while protecting the public, take care not to prosecute those who have been arrested if the evidence against them is weak or compromised.
6) The factors that make up the heart and the soul of law are . . .
Without law chaos reigns. That said, the heart and soul of law is the people who work and think and evolve the concepts of what the law should be and how to make the law conform to the notions of what is just in society
7) Think of a lawyer you consider a role model. The traits or values I respect or admire about him or her are . . .
The traits I admire are doggedness in the face of adversity, flexibility of mind during negotiations and similarly in trial or hearing. The ability to see the big picture and know how to get there in often not obvious ways. Finally, it is communicating with the client, treating a criminal defendant as a human being, realizing that a case involves more than charges and evidence, but a person and his family in perhaps the worst spot of their lives.