If you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly.
I was sworn into the bar by my father, in the courtroom of one of the most feared criminal judges to rule over a courtroom. It was right in the middle of jury selection on a death penalty case. They took a five-minute recess to swear me in and my father was ordered back to work. I followed in my father’s footsteps and became a lawyer. It took me years to get there, but I never really fit in until I found the law.
When I was younger, I went to a Catholic grammar school in Bridgeport, Connecticut. It was a city school, and we played on a pavement lot that had crack vials scattered around. But I wasn’t the same as the other students. I was always expected to succeed. The nerd near the top of the class, everyone knew that I’d have a different path than most of my classmates. After grammar school, I went to Fairfield College Preparatory School. I fit in appearance wise, but deep inside I knew I didn’t have a lot in common with 99% of the other students there. I rode the bus from Bridgeport and hung out mostly with the students of color. They accepted me and I met some nice guys there, but I was still an outsider.
In fact, over 25 years have passed since and even now I feel out of place. For the most part when I was in school I worked alone, cleaning offices and bathrooms to save money for college. The purpose of my job was to save money for school, and I did. 25 years later and I don’t know the names of 99% of the guys I went to high school with, but I still see my old boss from when I was a janitor every now and then. And he remembers me.
When I Ieft for college I thought, “this is where it will all change.” I didn’t mind that I didn’t know anyone when I showed up on campus – I would make new friends. I found a professor that I could really learn a lot from, made a few friends in some like-minded people who planned on law school, and the four years flew by.
After college, I took some time off to save up some money. Law school was going to be expensive, and I wanted to work in the field to make sure it was what I wanted to do. I saw how some former classmates planned on hammering out contracts for sales of shopping malls or mega mergers of businesses, and I knew that life wasn’t for me. I knew I wanted to help people. Real people. So, I saved my money, and entered law school determined to become an attorney for people.
I knew what I wanted to do, and how it differed from law school. I just had to suffer through the three years to get my degree and I would be on my way. I commuted to Hartford every day for school. One hour in the car each way and upon graduation, I got a job as a Public Defender. $100 per day was all I made. This wasn’t 1970 mind you; this was in 2000. I had classmates that got starting jobs making almost $100,000 a year with zero experience. I was making $26,000 a year…but I was a lawyer that helped people.
You see, when you find yourself needing a lawyer, it usually means something has gone wrong. You feel like you are on the outside looking in, and it can feel mighty lonely. One thing I always like to remind people is that you ARE a good person. That you have a lot to offer. If others just took a minute to meet you, get to know you, all would be different. I would not be the person I am today if I hadn’t had hardships I had to overcome, and I’m here to help you overcome them too.
That’s why I get up every day to represent my clients. Many of them have no voice, and I get to be that voice. I make sure their voices are heard. Together, the world isn’t lonely, and you aren’t going through this alone. Together we can fight for what is right – whether that be a legal defense, a factual defense or maybe even just a better picture of who you are so the judges and prosecutors can’t just treat you like a nobody.
In the end, despite all the lawyer jokes and everything you hear that’s bad about lawyers, I still believe in our justice system. I believe that sometimes a person just needs someone to stand up and fight for them. I’ve been on this path since childhood, and I am not afraid to take on the unpopular defenses because everyone needs a champion. Somebody who will stand beside them and be their advocate when they don’t have the power or strength or argument that needs to be made. I will be that voice for you. You aren’t alone anymore.