Blogging lawyers in Houston and Forth Worth are posting back and forth on which is the superior quality to be found in a criminal defense lawyer: empathy or ruthlessness.

Thought about jumping into the fray, but why rewrite my thoughts when I can cut and paste? Last year from one of my own posts “Are You An Aggressive Defense Lawyer?”:

One of the main buzzwords you see on even the best criminal defense lawyer websites is the phrase “aggressive defense”. I guess this either sounds good, or more likely, whoever wrote the website for the lawyer thinks it sounds good. Either way, I don’t call myself an aggressive lawyer.

On the contrary, I go to great lengths to be courteous and well mannered. In the initial negotiations stage of a case, the prosecutor has a great deal of leeway to potentially offer a better than average deal (which is what all of my clients are seeking). Why would they bend a little if the lawyer in a particular case was acting aggressively?

Potential clients who want their lawyer to act like the guest star on Law & Order don’t have a real firm grasp on their situation in the first place. If I truly have the upper hand when it comes to the law and the facts (and that does happen occasionally) there’s still no point in my coming into the prosecutor’s office and yelling and screaming at them. Or whatever it is that being aggressive or ruthless means.

I’m not perfect by any means. The courtroom can be a frustrating place, and lots of times I have to swallow my ego when some prosecutor is yelling at me about all the terrible things my client is accused of. I’ve been known – on occasion – to lose my temper.

But that usually leads me to the realization that I haven’t done my clients many favors.

For me the appropriate buzzword here is: competitive.

I don’t like to lose; whether it’s chess, poker, or my client’s case, I want to win. Sometimes (often?) a win is convincing a prosecutor to dismiss or reduce a case – perhaps in return for the client doing some community service, or an alcohol or drug awareness class – that the State could take to trial and likely get a Guilty verdict.

Sometimes a win is having that pretrial motion to suppress even though the prosecutor insists there are no legitimate issues. (A) You might actually win it and (B) it may bring out other problems with the State’s case; for example that the police officer makes a terrible witness.

Sometimes it means taking the case to trial.

There’s probably a reasonable argument that doing those things listed makes you aggressive/ruthless/substitute-your-favorite-adjective here. Perhaps it’s just a matter of semantics.

But I’ve seen plenty of lawyers come in to talk to a prosecutor about a case, and behave like first class jerks. It’s actually the exception not the rule. (The rule is that civil lawyers are not at all civil, while criminal lawyers usually are.)

And whenever I see someone touting themselves as “aggressive” that’s the image that comes to mind.