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Six Ways Politicians are Like Criminal Defense Lawyers

You know that feeling you get when something seems very familiar to you but you know it isn’t?

I got that recently when I was listening to one of the Presidential candidates wax poetic about every little detail concerning their poll numbers, on and on ad nauseam. I’m not even sure who it was (other than it wasn’t Kasich – for obvious reasons). Listening to them, I got this knot in my gut that this was somehow an intimately personal experience I had once had. But I couldn’t see how. I am a lawyer, not a politician.

There was that one time I ran for election myself. But it couldn’t be that… I am pretty sure Gallup wasn’t running any major polls to monitor the Island County Superior Court Judge job at the time. No, it was hard enough just reminding people to remember to vote in the primary when there was basically no press coverage.

Then it hit me.

Politicians and Criminal Defense lawyers are very much alike.


We Both Obsess Over Our WorkSix Ways Politicians are Like Criminal Defense Lawyers - Obsess Over Work - Seattle Criminal Lawyer Blog

Like I was saying above, this is the similarity that first struck me.

Politicians are living in their own little worlds. The type of world we trial lawyers call “Being In Trial!” (With an exclamation mark like that.) We get sooo excited! It’s all we can think about. The whole world becomes the way the fingerprints were mishandled or how the witness told multiple inconsistent versions of their story or how unfair the judge is being. We obsess and drill down on obscure facts and theories until we can think (or talk) about nothing else.

Just ask my wife. When our kids were small she routinely took them to visit her mom before I tried big cases just to get away from me and my constant boring nattering about nothing. Looking back, I don’t blame her.

Especially when I listen to these people drone on about their boring polls. Polls are to them what bad forensics or flawed case investigation techniques are to criminal defense trial lawyers. Endlessly fascinating, but only to us. So, I am seeing in these politicians what I know others see in me.


Six Ways Politicians are Like Criminal Defense Lawyers - Troll Targets - Seattle Criminal Lawyer BlogWe Are Automatic Troll Targets

Yes, if you read these random musings of mine you know I love to laugh at the Trolls. I just can’t get over a bunch of grown men (mainly), living in their mom’s basements with nothing better to do all day than pick on total strangers.

We set ourselves up for this, of course, due to the nature of our work and our visibility. But I really don’t see trolls attacking cheesecake recipes on Pinterest. Or travel destinations from Trip Advisor (unless they are writing bad reviews about how some waiter cut them off because they were falling down drunk).

Lawyers and Politicians seem to occupy the same special place in the Troll Pantheon of nasty comments. They just can’t say enough bad stuff about either of us. Again, it comes with our mutual territories.


We Have Yuge Egos (or Really Should)Six Ways Politicians are Like Criminal Defense Lawyers - Huge Egos - Seattle Criminal Lawyer Blog

It’s true. We are all impressed with our own work. Lawyers are nowhere near as bad as politicians; they have to talk about how wonderful they are 24/7. Lawyers only imply it 24/7. It’s just the competitive nature or our jobs.

Not everyone agrees with this, and it is true that if we drill down on the actual psychology involved, big egos often spring from insecure personalities. It is often compensation for deeper issues, a defense mechanism to protect us from a hostile world.

As for whether it is necessary for a successful career, just look at politicians. Jimmy Carter had a modest meek personality compared to Bill Clinton, who was a raging self absorbed ego freak, if nothing else. Hmmm. How’d that work out for those guys? Or look at Trump vs Kasich. Seeing a pattern here?

The same applies to trial lawyers. I don’t know any who don’t project a certain… uh… confidence? I mean, how would you like to be charged with Murder One and sitting in court at the beginning of trial when your lawyer turns to you and shrugs and says something meek and self effacing? Or if a future President appeared tentative and uncertain of himself or herself?

I thought so.

Confidence in oneself breeds the confidence other people have in you. Even if it is unseemly sometimes. It works.


Six Ways Politicians are Like Criminal Defense Lawyers - We are Salesmen - Seattle Criminal Lawyer BlogWe are Basically All Just Salesmen

I know, salespeople is better, but I felt compelled to invoke Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman for the sake of irony. A classic sales technique, btw. But, salesmen or salespeople, the point is that we sell.

Whenever we are appearing in court, talking to cops or prosecutors or witnesses or juries (or talking to clients for that matter) we are advocating. If we are any good, we are aware of (and careful to choose) every single word we use.

I had lunch with a great lawyer yesterday, Chris Black, here in Seattle. Chris does mainly federal cases, which is kind of the major leagues in our line of work. That is how we know each other. It’s a small club.

Chris and I were laughing about how it can take us half an hour to write a four line email because we keep obsessing over every single word, deleting and moving sentences and adding embellishments and even reading it aloud to ourselves, to make sure it “rings” true (well, “rings effectively” at least.) With every nuance, every connotation, we carefully construct the tone (friendly or tough or formal or folksy) for maximum persuasive value. We talk and write to persuade. It all boils down to making people think things and doing what we want them to do. It ain’t always easy.

Ask Ted Cruz. He knows. Like him or not, he is a typical lawyer. Someone just needs to tell him how smarmy he comes across. They are all so busy fawning that the truth probably never reaches his ears, another problem some lawyers have. Me? I have no shortage of people telling me their complaints about what I am doing. That’s because I’m a criminal defense lawyer, not a prosecutor, who only hear how wonderful they are (unless they are talking to me, of course; then I might feel compelled to set them straight.) Give me five minutes with Ted and I’d have that smirk wiped off of his smug face. Which is why people hate him. He comes across as an arrogant superior smug goober.

That is not me being political. Just telling it like it is. Look at Trump; he is a master at this. Last night I heard some “expert pundit” (can there be a more perfect oxymoron?) going on and on about something Trump had said. He blasted Trump for saying simplistic things and not going into a giant diatribe on policy details, thus revealing his own lack of expertise.

What had Trump said? He sent out a tweet saying, “I know people aren’t sure right now what a President Trump will be like. But things will be fine. I’m not running for president to make things unstable for the country.”

When I heard that I smiled. Partly because it was a masterful thing to say to set a positive tone, something he desperately needed to do for strategic reasons. But also partly because it eased my own mind a bit.

I mean, it worked.

And what was the expert saying? “You call that a platform?!?” the idiot bellowed. He just. Doesn’t. Get. It. Trump was being brilliant. He needed to set a mellower tone and get people to stop worrying about the negativity that is out there in the media, and relax. And he did that with just a couple of sentences. He would have made a very good lawyer, I almost hate to say (despite my comments I do not support him as a candidate.) He is a natural salesman, even if he is the polar opposite of Willy Loman.


We have to Talk About Difficult Things

Another truism. Whether it is abortion or race relations for politicians, or rape and murder for criminal trial lawyers, awkward topics are our stock in trade. Knowing how to talk about them and which words to use to get across our point, without alienating everyone, is tough.

This is another interesting aspect of Trump. Somehow he gets away with saying it the way he sees it, without a lot of sugar coating. But that is just part of the trick. Sometimes being blunt is best, sometimes not. But, either way, you have to learn how to discuss these awkward issues in a way that works. It’s not easy. Which is part of the reason that…


EveryoneSix Ways Politicians are Like Criminal Defense Lawyers - Everyone Loves to Hate Us - Seattle Criminal Lawyer Blog Loves to Hate Us

Oh yes, it’s true. And ironic. I mean, everyone needs both lawyers and politicians, but unlike firefighters, no one is really that happy to see us. It means we are going to talk about awkward topics, in order to persuade people to do things, while coming across as annoying and self-absorbed. Who would want to spend a weekend with that? Just ask my wife.

But again, if we are any good, we have to ignore the hate and keep plugging away. Not long ago I was working on a major case that was very high profile, with lots of national TV coverage and tons of local media constantly following us around. It attracted some negative attention, suffice it to say.

I got so many hate emails I lost track. Telling me that I was a “sociopath” or “killer lover” or worse. But, I didn’t let it bother me. Well, not too much anyway. That’s because I had a job to do and I did it; quite well if I do say so myself in that case, what with my giant ego and all….

Which is what politicians have to do, too. Can you imagine our current two front-runners if they gave up because so many people hated them? Apparently they are, according to those lame “experts”, the two most unpopular people to ever run for President. Good grief. They really should have been lawyers.

Oh wait, one of them is.

Which is why the similarity goes beyond what I have pointed out here: because most politicians are not only like lawyers, they are lawyers. Of course, since they write laws and make policy, that makes sense. Lawyers speak the language that is used to write laws, and people pay us to know that language when they hire us. We are basically interpreting the language of law for them, at a price. Selling ourselves and our arguments.

And so are politicians, with their big egos and unpopular opinions and hate mail and obsessions. You see, at the end of the day, we are basically the same. For better or worse. Either a necessary evil or knights in shining armor, depending on your point of view.

And in the end, it works.