When I was in law school in New Orleans, I had a formative experience with the Orleans Parish District Attorneys office in the summer of 2000. New Orleans is a colorful place full of colorful, flamboyant people from all kinds of backgrounds. It is also a city that is mired in poverty and during my law school years (1999-2002), crime was rampant. The police department was constantly under investigation for corruption or officers accused of wrongdoing. There were rows and rows of courtrooms in the old Orleans Parish Courthouse on Tulane Avenue and trials were constantly going on. You could peer into any of those courtrooms and see a young kid on trial for first degree murder over a Saints jacket, a crack rock, or for many other petty reasons. There would be no one in the courtroom besides court personnel, the jury, the Defendant, his lawyer, and the State’s attorney. In many ways, the criminal justice system in the Big Easy was teetering on the brink of collapse, with not enough money to fund public defenders, inadequate resources, and beyond human jail overcrowding. Amidst this maelstrom we were always allowed to order in lunch, usually fried oyster or shrimp po-boys, on the state of Louisiana’s dime if we were in the middle of a trial. It was a great experience for me in that the lawyers, both assistant district attorneys and the criminal defense bar, were a flashy bunch. Attorneys were allowed to move around the courtroom freely when questioning witnesses. Acting out the crime was commonplace during opening statements and summations. It was more like a theatrical performance.
I think out of that experience I associated a certain amount of romantic heroism with doing defense work. Part of it is just the challenge of it all. You walk into a courtroom with your client, usually in his ill-fitting dress shirt and non-matching tie, and everyone is against you—the assistant district attorney, the police, usually the Judge, most of the time the witnesses in the courtroom, and lots of times the jury in the box, at least at the beginning. So it’s an us against the world kind of feeling. That’s why I like the challenge.