Why I Do What I do

By Mark McBride

For me, lawyering is not about advancing a political agenda, rather, it is “confined to the practice of law.”  For me, the practice of law is standing next to my client and asking the jury to rely on the concepts written in the United States Constitution 223 years ago.

For me, lawyering is about a term I heard in church a long time ago called “standing in the gap.”  As criminal defense lawyers, every day Jen and I “stand in the gap” between, on the one hand, the system, the judge, the prosecutor, and a jury and, on the other hand, a client who, many times, is not like any of those players, and who is definitely not like us.  I will never stop standing in the gap.  It’s in my spirit.  It’s in my heart. I tell juries that my job is to stand in the gap, and that if they have heard any terrible words, or have seen any horrible pictures, of if they don’t like how my client looks and acts, that they should take all that out on me, and not on my client.  I tell them that they should leave this courthouse after acquitting my client, but hating me so much that they should just be burning with rage.

I enjoy explaining to jurors, many of whom are not upper-middle class lawyers, what these fundamental constitutional concepts mean — the right not to testify, the right to vigorous counsel, the right to due process, the presumption of innocence, the importance of the confrontation clause (which means that alleged victims get crucified by me during cross, and the right to have the government prove every element of every crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

And juries get it — and they like to be involved in a constitutional endeavor.  I bring them into the process — them with me and my client.  All of us poring over those 223 year old principles to see if the government, to whom they give their taxes, despite the fact that many of them, if they have a job at all in this economy, make $40-70 k per year in a very expensive city, while raising families and while working 10 hour days as teachers, plumbers, doormen, cab drivers, fireman, police officers, etc.  I deeply respect these people, and they can feel that when I talk to them.

I come from people like that, and I tell them so.  I think they feel that there is good in the world when a guy in an Italian suit can stand next to a guy who smells from being incarcerated so long, and when that same guy puts his arm around his really smelly client, and when they hear me scream and yell in favor of my client.  They see the wedding ring, and I often, if I can get away with it, tell them about just being a normal guy like them (because I am) with a wife and kids.  I’m not that different than them at all. And we are definitely all the same when my client, me, and the 12 jurors pour over the above-stated constitutional principles.

I learned how to be a trial lawyer by teaching Sunday School for many years. In that setting, there are all sorts of people.  People who are absolutely devout, young girls who asked me questions about having sex before marriage, young men who would confess to class that they feel weird about coming to church because they’ve been getting high all week, and gay people asking me if it was okay for them to be in my class at all.  I welcomed all to that class, and I never, ever, turned away one of them.  In fact, I asked the gay man, or the drug addict, or the girl who just couldn’t stop having lots of pre-marriage sex to keep coming back, and that they could call me on my cell phone anytime if they were scared, or depressed, or down, and if they just wanted to hear a non-judgmental voice.  And you know what?  Some of them did.  I learned to talk to people not like me, and I learned respect for all people, by teaching Sunday School.  It’s really true. If you want to learn how to try a case, I tell young lawyers to teach Sunday school, or Temple classes, or enrichment classes at their mosques, etc.

Politically leaning, I’m in favor of the smallest government possible — one that you could drown in a bathtub.  One that provides a national defense, enforces property laws, and prevents crime.  Other than that, I loathe the government.  And I tell the jury that, too (despite an objection, of course, by prosecutors).

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