This forum is not purely dedicated to legal discourse. While I may attempt to 'raise the bar' with some pieces relating to law and being a criminal defense lawyer in Toronto, I also plan to use this blog as a medium to express my often critical thoughts on the daily grind that is life. Throw in some random videos and internet fodder, and the bar is sure to be lowered.


Monday, 27 June 2011

Dark side of the Moon

Naturally when I made the decision to transition from being a police officer of more than a decade to join the world of criminal defense, I expected the inevitable question: "What made you change from being a cop to a criminal defense lawyer?"
 
It's a fair question, given that I had gone from a world where I investigated, instigated and assisted in the prosecution of the very same people I am now defending on a daily basis. 
 
I also expected that most of the inquiries would come from current police officers, both former colleagues and officers I happen to meet in my current capacity alike.  Although they usually use different terminology: "How could you go to the dark side?"  Those officers usually make that query with a wry smile on their face in recognition of the fact that my career has undertaken a complete paradigm shift.
 
Most of them quickly come to understand that it's not the 180 degree turn they initially believed.  This realization comes when, in response to their question, my standard answer is "If you were arrested for impaired driving, would you want representation?"  

As an aside, I chose impaired driving as my example quite intentionally.  In my experience, and it is commonly known, that drinking is the only vice legally available to police officers and a great deal of them imbibe accordingly.  Nothing wrong with that.  But, unfortunately, it often follows that driving after alcohol consumption is not uncommon.  But I digress...
 
There are some officers that just don't understand how I could join the criminal defense Bar.  They hate don't like defense lawyers; they're scum bags deviants who represent persons of similar quality.  And to be fair, there are many lawyers who despise dislike police officers with similar zeal; cops are lying pricks deceivers who fabricate evidence in order to cover up their often unconstitutional actions. 
 
In my opinion lawyers who hate the police and officers who hate defense lawyers are both suffering from misplaced ire.  Both professions play essential roles not only in our justice system, but also in society at large.  The police stand between us and anarchy.  I say that despite the fact that recent G20 anecdotes might suggest their role as also being the instigators of chaos.  Conversely, the defense Bar attempts to keep the police honest and redresses the imbalance between often unsophisticated accused persons who face the unlimited resources that are the disposal of the machinery of the state.  

And speaking of imbalance, that term aptly describes any view contrarily held to my humble opinion.  It is only after having tasted both 'sides' that I can claim a reasonable semblance of balance when offering my thoughts.  These might be my only balanced thoughts...
 
Which brings us back to the point; why did I switch?  Well the considerations are many: financial, professional, familial, along with deeper philosophical reasons.  But what it boiled down to in the end was a constant, often conscious, reminder in both the forefront and scary depths of my mind to embrace the profession I had always aspired toward.  I had always wanted to be a lawyer.
Upon entering the University of Toronto in 1991, it had been my goal to go to law school.  But after 4 years of post secondary classes, I could stomach school no longer.  I was done with education.  No more exams, no more studying, no more classes.  Get me outta here!
 
After growing tired of school and seeing what policing had done for my father, I applied and was accepted.  I was student of the year at the Ontario Police College earning the Colonel A.A. Wallace award.  I was well under way.  

I enjoyed my job (for the most part), the people I worked with (for the most part), and eventually earned enough respect from my colleagues and superiors alike (for the most part) to take on a leadership role and to train new recruits.  Recruit after recruit after recruit.  

Although I had adopted an approach of liberalism, as if being somehow predisposed to believing that, in general, people are good and that blanket incarceration wasn't in society's best interest.  Sure, some people deserve to go to jail.  But a steady stream of imprisonment for matters that were resolvable through other, more productive measures, is counterintuitive.  Needless to say, this approach did not fall into grace with many inflexible, perhaps jaded officers who believed in extreme sentencing - the ones who wouldn't hesitate to charge their own mothers.  But I digress...again...
 
Eventually the time came, and I'll try and use a more formal term here, to defecate or remove myself from the abode.  I had been recommended for promotion.  I could invest myself in the profession or chose to pack it in and risk the pursuit of following the dreams of my youth.  Dreams which had stayed with me, which plagued me, in fact.
 
So after much soul searching, I reached the heavily considered decision to leave policing and attend law school.  I geared my course load and tunneled my way toward my ultimate goal:  becoming a criminal defense lawyer in the great City of Toronto.
 
It was perfect timing.  I had acquired a specific set of skills, both professional and social, that rendered me very marketable to criminal defense firms. 
 
I tell all my clients, without fail, about my past experience.  Some of them are hesitant at first.  That is, until I explain how my former experience can work to their advantage.  But most clients are comforted about being represented by someone who has intimate knowledge of police policy and procedures.  But more importantly, they are attracted to my knowledge of police culture.  I can think like a cop.  I have the innate ability to spot bullshit ex post facto justification in disclosure rather handily.  This ability is of an inestimable advantage to clients in preparing their defense.
 
So there's your answer.  It was just in me.  Why not take the arguably logical step of becoming a Crown Attorney?  No thanks.  I find defense work much more intellectually stimulating (no offense).  Moreover, Crowns don't get to cross examine witnesses with the frequency that the defense does.  Let's face it, cross examination is fun!  I find at least that part of the Crown's job description to be less than ideal. Thus, I am now a criminal defense lawyer.
 
Most of my former colleagues are supportive.  For those few that I remain in touch with, friendship rightly transcends the professional dichotomy.  For those that aren't as agreeable, I can only hope to enlighten some of them, someday, on the experiences, and ultimately the merits, of being on the dark side of the moon. 

PS.  Don't think - Watch this video.  You'll thank me later

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