One of my favorite definitions of a lawyer is “a person whose profession consists of protecting his clients from other members of his profession.” (Anonymous)
I’ve been a lawyer for 28 years and I know that lawyers can hurt you. Judges can hurt you. There are people who use the courts to gain an unfair advantage over other people. Sometimes, you need some help to protect yourself and your property. You need a lawyer.
As a Criminal Defense Lawyer, I’ve sometimes had to go to trial to prove my client’s innocence after he was wrongfully accused of a crime. Technically, defendants and their lawyers do not have to prove anyone’s innocence. They don’t have to prove anything at all. But we need to raise some “reasonable doubt” about an accused person’s guilt. And if the prosecutor cannot prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, under the law, the defendant is not guilty.
Some people are falsely accused. Some are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Witnesses may mistakenly identify someone as being involved in a crime. Studies have been conducted that show how unreliable eyewitness identification can be. Some people actually admit to crimes they didn’t commit. That’s why the law requires more than a confession – but also some corroborating evidence to support the confession before someone can be found guilty of a crime. In the real world, judges and juries do not always get it right. We have an imperfect system – as evidenced by 13 people who have been released from Illinois prisons after sitting for many years on death row! Lawyers, who do their jobs well, can help the system work better – in order to avoid sending innocent people to jail.
Many of my criminal clients are, in fact, guilty as accused, and readily admit to it. Often, they’ve confessed their crimes to the police, both verbally and in writing. In those cases, there may not be a legal defense, but there are often mitigating circumstances to explain the criminal conduct. He or she was provoked; he was intoxicated; he was under the influence of drugs; he was suffering depression, following a death in the family or broken relationship; he had financial stress after losing his job; he was young and stupid; how many politicians have cited a “youthful indiscretion” many years past their youth?
These things may not amount to a legal defense, but they may give the judge some direction on how to sentence the person. My argument might be that he or she, and society, would benefit more from alcohol & drug counseling; an anger management class; community service; or probation, than from jail. If in jail, he can’t work, support his family, care for his children, etc. Judges will usually give someone one or more chances to redeem themselves before sending someone to jail. But if they continue to screw up, the options become more limited.
As a Personal Injury Lawyer, I help people who have been injured as a result of another person’s reckless, careless, negligent and sometimes intentional conduct. My clients have been injured in motor vehicle accidents, work accidents, slip and fall accidents, consuming bad food in restaurants, and in countless other ways. They need medical care and money to pay for it. They may miss work and need money to pay their bills and support their families. They may have permanent disabilities, scarring or disfigurement. They may have suffered a great deal of pain and emotional distress. If someone else caused these losses, they (or their insurance company) should pay to make things right. The law does not require that an injured person be made better off than before the injury – only that he or she be restored to the same condition they would be in had the injury not occurred. Obviously, the courts cannot heal a person or relieve pain. Judges and juries can only award a fair sum of money as a form of compensation. And maybe, the person or entity that has to pay the money will take some precautions to avoid injuring anyone else in the future. That’s what personal injury attorneys can do to make the world a better and safer place to live. Of course, there are plenty of lawyers defending these cases in order to prevent fraud and abuse. And there are many lawyers who argue that every case is fraud and abuse
As a Civil Litigation Lawyer, I file lawsuits and defend against lawsuits, which usually involve disputes over money. Sometimes, I file collection cases against people or companies who don’t pay their bills. Sometimes I defend cases where someone, perhaps a former landlord, is trying to restore and improve his entire rental property at the expense of my client, a former tenant. People with power and money can usually afford to drag out litigation more than the little guy can afford to stay in the game. That’s when many lawyers, including myself, may decide to stay in the case, and continue fighting for our clients, long after it becomes clear that we will never be paid. In fact, most lawyers take on several pro-bono cases a year, fighting very hard for our clients who cannot afford to pay, because it’s the right thing to do.
As a Bankruptcy Lawyer, I help my clients, who are often overwhelmed and distraught over financial problems, find some peace. They may have been sued, had judgments entered against them, had their wages garnished, their bank accounts frozen, their car repossessed, foreclosure proceedings filed against their home, or been evicted. Some people have made some very poor choices, lived beyond their means, relied too much on credit cards or gambled their money away. Others have suffered tremendous misfortune – lost their jobs, lost their insurance, incurred huge medical bills, become divorced, even been victims of crime and fraud. I try to counsel people to make smarter choices in the future – live within your means, pay cash, avoid charging more on your credit card than you can repay each month, don’t borrow money at 800% interest from Payday Loan Stores and the like.
Sometimes we can get rid of the debt and give people a fresh start within 4 months, through a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. For people with more income, or equity in their property, we can hold off the creditors while our clients make monthly payments to a Trustee, who then disburses funds to creditors over a period of time in a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy. A Chapter 13 case can stop foreclosure proceedings, stop a Sheriff’s Sale, and give people a chance to catch up on their past due payments in order to save their homes. These cases can last up to 60 months and require both luck (that people keep their jobs) and the discipline to live within a budget. But at the end of a successful case, the client has been able to keep his property, pay off or obtain a discharge of his debts, and go forward in better financial shape than he was when he first walked into our office. That makes me feel we’ve done some good in our community.
In conclusion, I want to remind you that while some lawyers can hurt you, your lawyer can help you. And should the need arise, I would like to be your lawyer.