Day in the life of
Criminal Defense Attorney – Brian Joslyn, Esq.
My Typical Day
Unlike a lot of sectors of law, such as estate planning, real estate, business, or construction, criminal defense lawyers start each day (and spend most of their days) in court. Depending on my current caseload, I will attend a minimum of two client hearings and up to seven each day. These are held in my primary region’s courthouse, but oftentimes they will be held in different courtrooms within that one courthouse. These run from 8 am to about noon, or if I have a higher volume that day, can extend to around 2 pm.
After the morning’s cases, my afternoons are spent at out-of-county hearings. These are for clients in more rural settings that are not being seen in my primary courthouse. It’s convenient, most of the time, as the larger courthouse holds their cases in the mornings and then attorneys can then travel to their out-of-country hearings each afternoon, which is when they’re scheduled.
All of these cases are either arraignments (first appearance in court), pretrial (essentially settlement conferences to resolve the case), plea hearings, and sentencing hearings. So even among these cases, it varies throughout the day as to what each is for and what we’re doing for that period of time.
Between these hearings and traveling out of the county, I field calls from existing clients, hear from new clients, schedule consultations with my team, and address a variety of housekeeping tasks. I’m also the firm’s principal, so I also spend time on the business side, such as marketing, finances, HR, team matters, and so forth. This will always spill into my evening, so I’ll either take some work home with me or be a little tardy.
Just when you think you might be done for the day, your phone goes off and you’ve been asked to meet a new client who just got arrested and is going to their first court appearance tomorrow. It’s now 9 pm and I’m leaving home to go meet with them and get dialed in for our morning’s court appearance. This can span any length of time, due to the circumstances at hand.
No two days are the same, but the days are long. One thing I can attest to is that I NEVER look at my watch and think, “When will today be over?” If anything, I look at my watch and always think, “Where did the day go?” But, we’re also aggressive with our law firm and have been a part of well over 20,000 cases.
The benefits of this job are that you can help wrongfully convicted clients avoid long-term convictions with life-changing outcomes, and you allow them to have their day in court with someone who has their back and knows the justice system thoroughly. Legal matters can be hard to decipher and process when they’re benign circumstances, but criminal charges introduce a whole other element that requires an expert in criminal defense.
Whether you’re a law firm owner or simply a practicing attorney, you can earn a good living and it’s a purpose-driven field. It also becomes personal for many. Take me as an example, I was wrongfully accused and formally charged on five false counts of assault on a police officer, resisting arrest, failing to leave the scene of an emergency, rioting, and disorderly conduct while I was in college. The reality is that I was on a private lawn, 100% sober (blood tests proved this), watching a block party from afar that got out of hand by other partygoers when tear gas was shot by Police and the canister hit me in the head. Disoriented and on the ground from the shot, I was quickly swarmed by Police and arrested. It took me getting a criminal defense lawyer to help me navigate the process and ultimately prevail. I was acquitted of all charges and actually won a lawsuit against the police department for police brutality. I used the proceeds from that lawsuit to fund my law school and eventually open my law firm to help others. Stuff like that, but across the spectrum of less severe to more severe accusations, are what makes it all worthwhile. Winning a case for a client is one of the best “highs” you can experience!
The negatives are definitely there too. The stress is sky high and unhealthy, you’re constantly busy and working very long hours, and you’ll often be pulled away from personal and family time at odd hours all night. You also have to factor into the equation that your expertise and performance are literally all that’s keeping the accused party out of prison. That’s a lot of pressure when you spread it over 20,000 cases at our firm alone.
Sometimes you can feel powerless too, as you believe you did everything right, but you might still lose. That sting hurts at a core level, and you then have to speak with the loved ones of your client and that’s equally hard.
There’s also the subject matter, which I won’t go into detail on, but you can imagine. Violent or adolescent crimes, as an example, can be hard to deal with over and over again. This can change you or cause you to go numb to certain things or have a loss of innocence. It can also be hard to relate to non-lawyers or even non-criminal-defense-lawyers because you’re so entrenched in this high-stress and potentially dark segment of law. You have to have thick skin if you’re going to be a criminal defense attorney.
Advice to aspiring Criminal Defense Attorneys
Being a criminal defense attorney is a tough job and it’s certainly not for everyone. Before you make the commitment to pursue your law degree and get licensed, I’d reflect on why you’re pursuing this field? It could be the money, it could be a passion for law, or it could be personal, such as myself. I saw how much I benefitted from an ace defense attorney when I was acquitted of an unjust crime, and I want to be that beacon of hope for my clients. Your reason may vary, just have a reason and know you’re passionate about it.
As far as things to consider, it can lead to unhealthy amounts of stress, interrupting your personal life often, the subject matter can be taxing, and the severity of what your clients are facing is significant. This means there’s notable pressure in the role. You’re also going to be handling a lot of cases annually, so you’ll constantly be busy! Due to these factors, an ideal candidate to become a criminal defense attorney needs to have thick skin, enjoy high-paced schedules, and be driven. If you’re offended or get uncomfortable easily, it might not be the best suit for you. However, if you’re mission-driven and hungry to impact hundreds and thousands of client lives while you’re representing them, it’s so worthwhile. I’ve commented before that winning a case in your client’s favor is unlike any rush you can experience! You literally changed their life and gave them a second opportunity or helped them right a wrong.
It can also provide a great living and allow you to open your own firm to take the next generation of lawyers under your wing and impact even more clients.
Like life, it’s a balancing act. You take the hardships, weigh them against the rewards, and assess your proverbial ROI on your efforts. As I’ve grown over the years, it becomes harder in some ways, but the rewards also become more prominent too, so it’s worthwhile in my eyes. Your mileage may vary.