Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Yep. There it is. That's why.

I had a sentencing hrg at the beginning of May for a client who I had lost at trial with. We were asking for a departure and my staff and I had put in a lot of work into it. We ultimately didn't win (although the judge did tell me after the hrg that it was a really nice presentation, which was really awesome) and my client was sent to prison.

About a week later, I received a letter from him thanking me for the work I did on his cases (we had two trials. One we lost, the other we won) and letting me know he thought I had done "exceptional" and I was the best attorney he has ever had. I absolutely love thank you letters because the whole reason I do this work is because I want to be able to help people. Many people will tell me thanks after the last court hrg, but only a handful actually take the time to write to me after the case is over to tell me thank you, so I am always touched by their letters.
This particular letter really impacted me, because I have not had a case until this one where we went to trial and lost and the sentence was prison. I've had people accept offers for a much lower prison sentence or lost cases where jail was imposed. But this was the first time I'd had a trial and lost and the client got prison. I felt terrible, even though I did a ton of work on it, because it's hard to not feel a little bit of that sense of, "what if I'd done this or that?" Or "should I have tried this instead?"
So, it was wonderful to get a letter from the client telling me that despite the outcome, despite the prison sentence, he thought I had done a good job for him. He even told me to not feel bad because he didn't think it was my fault he was in prison and I had done everything I could do. This letter made my whole week last week.
Then, this week, my boss put a photocopy of a letter in my inbox. It was to my boss from the same client.  He was writing to my boss to tell her that he had bev represented by me on two cases and he wanted her to know that I had done a fantastic job and was very dedicated to his cases. He also said the staff that helped with the sentencing hrg had been wonderful as well and he wanted to thank us both, as well as our entire office, for all the work we do. My boss hung the letter up in the copy area for everyone to see.
I won't lie, reading that letter he sent to my boss made me tear up a little.  While I've had a handful of letters over the last three years, I've never had someone write to my boss. It was so touching that he felt like he wanted to let her know about the work on his cases and that he had felt like he had had an attorney who really represented him.
I've got this letter to my boss hanging on a board in my office. I keep all the  thank-you letters and emails I get from clients and put most of them in a folder and stick some up on my board. This one is never going to come down.
That's why I do this job. To make a difference for someone, one person at a time. We may not always win, but at least someone put up a good fight for them and at least they didn't lose alone.  At the end of the day, it's been my experience that most of my clients just want someone to stand with them, stand beside them, believe in them, and stand up for them.  Win or lose, they just want to know they weren't in this alone.
I may lose a lot court as a public defender, but I think I gain a lot too. Being able to see the person behind the court case and to be able to be the only person (and sometimes the first person ever) to listen to them and to go into the battle for them is what gives me purpose in life.  It's hard, it's tiring, and sometimes (a lot of the time) I want to give up because I feel like I can't do it anymore.  But, then, I get a letter or an email or someone calls me crying with relief because they don't have to be so afraid about what to expect anymore and it makes my whole day light up.
I'm probably still young and idealistic and haven't given up on the ideas I have about making a difference in the world and that's why I get such a sense of satisfaction from my work. But, I hope that I never lose those things. I hope that whether it's three years or thirty years, my heart still runs over with joy at something as small as a thank-you letter.
This work is the epitome of the saying, "You can't be something to everyone, but you can be everything to someone."
Sometimes I forget that when I'm tired and stressed and out of time and want to tear my phone out of the wall and run away screaming.  But, in my heart of hearts, I know that public defense is the work I was meant to do. 

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