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According to research on the emotional well-being of lawyers, public defenders may be among the happiest. This comports with my own anecdotal experience as a teacher and mentor of law students and post-graduate fellows interested in criminal defense, many of whom are now career defenders. They may be deeply frustrated by the system in which they work, but they are happy to do what they can to make a difference for their clients. They also adore their defender colleagues. My former students and fellows in large law firms don’t seem quite as happy.

Notwithstanding the data, there seems to be a trend in the direction of suffering. In this Essay, I first call out this damaging trend and discuss what is problematic about the martyr paradigm and its equally troubling analogue, the hero/savior paradigm. Then, I muse a bit about whether there might be a need for heroes and martyrs in the challenging work of criminal defense after all. Finally, I offer a happier, more satisfying, and more effective approach to being a defender.

Publication Citation

Berkeley Journal of Criminal Law, Vol. 28, Issue 2, Pp. 169-204.