Ah, the joys of becoming a lawyer.

If you spend your days trying to convince a prosecutor that not every charge of battery is a “big deal” you better not be a hypocrite if it happens to you.

That post last week forced me to think about some things.  Not very important things, though.  I thought about the pending Mayan Zombie apocalypse.  I thought about that new Sargento “off the block” shredded cheese (I mean, if it hasn’t always been shredded from the block, what did they shred it from?).  And, I thought more about those new lawyers that are popping up all over Kane and McHenry Counties.

Those poor, poor, poor kids.

One of them recently told me that public defender jobs were highly sought-after by new graduates.  I found this to be funny.  I still think it’s funny.

Hardly anybody goes into law school dreaming of working for the public defender’s office.  When you go to law school, it’s all about rainbows, unicorns, saving the world, and fun, happy things.  I’d say this video sums it up nicely. Awww.  How cute.

Oddly, when I graduated law school, I was the only student in my class I knew of who actively tried to get a public defender job.  When the economy was good and law firms were giving away money, public defender jobs weren’t exactly considered prestigious.  Nevertheless, when you have that criminal defense attorney thing inside you, it’s not all about the money. You go where that thing takes you.

I applied to 4 public defender offices, got interviews with 3 and job offers from two.  That’s not exactly because I graduated at the top of my class, either.  At that time, law school admissions were way down, lawyer salaries were up and nobody wanted to take a low-paying job “working with criminals”.  The one place I interviewed that didn’t give me an offer was the Federal Defender, and I don’t believe I was even licensed to practice in that jurisdiction at the time.

Of course, Kane County was the one office that never got back to me. It’s ok.  I mean, just because I was raised here, graduated from High School here, and went to college nearby doesn’t mean it’s where I wanted to work.  I’m over it. Maybe.

Anyway, I’m betting kids still don’t go into law school dreaming of working for the public defender.  I’d venture to say that the majority of them are making it a “hot” field because of the job security and the economy.  I bet their love for the defense of the indigent forms somewhere in their second year… when the idea of having to pay back student loans gets a little more real.

Those people have no idea what they’re in for.

There aren’t many jobs where you just might get punched in the face on any given morning.  There are fewer where you might get punched and you’re expected to brush it off.  They don’t teach boxing in law school, but they probably should for anybody talking about a career with the public defender.

Everybody in this profession for any length of time knows somebody who has been attacked by their client.  It happens in every county.  It happened not long ago in Kane County.  It’s almost always a defendant in custody.  It happened to me in 2002 in the lockup outside one of the McHenry County Courtrooms… although the guy never got to make physical contact.

You can tell the lawyer in that video isn’t just a public defender for the steady paycheck and job security.  He is a “defense attorney” to the core- he didn’t take it personally, and he’s not really wanting to get caught up as a witness in a criminal case.  This is the reaction a criminal lawyer would expect to see from one of his colleagues.  It may not be right, but it is what it is.  If you spend your days trying to convince a prosecutor that not every charge of battery is a “big deal” you better not be a hypocrite if it happens to you.

I know all you new, fresh lawyers (and about-to-be-lawyers) entered law school with dreams of doing the world good.  You were going to save the whales, preserve the rain forests, or stop the spread of communism.  You were going to do big things and play sold-out shows in large Colosseums.  And now?  Now you’re just hoping to play those sad, old songs in front of a handful of friends and family.

How bad do you really want that public defender job, though?  Are you sure this is what you want to do?  Are you willing to take a punch?


Author: matthaiduk

Matt Haiduk is a criminal defense lawyer in Illinois. He loves his dog. And pizza.

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