I have now been the editor of The Voice for one year. What a privilege it has been, what an opportunity. I have been fortunate to work with regular prominent contributors like Buck Files, Stephen Gustitis, and Robert Pelton, and TCDLA’s behind-the-scenes man, Craig Hattersley. We have added a standing Fourth Amendment column, published more from experts, and have heralded in a new SDR author, Michael Mowla.
It has also provided a platform (I am certain that the fact that our journal is called The Voice is no mere coincidence). Any time we are given a voice we must use it, and we must use it effectively and responsibly. We must speak for those who can’t, even when to do so is unpopular or downright hard. We must advocate for those whom everyone else has abandoned. We must beg for mercy on behalf of those who can’t ask themselves. We must advocate for real science in the courtroom every time. We must strive for and bring about positive change rather than complain about the status quo. We, unlike many, are in a position to do something about the problems we see, and to make changes. This opportunity should not be squandered.
A year ago, I wrote about legacies. I was reflecting on the upcoming birth of my son, Samuel George, and my dad, George Roland, who has been memorialized in The Voice since his death in 1999. Sam will be one on April 8. He is happiness. I was literally in the middle of a felony punishment trial when I was rushed away from the courtroom—leaving my bewildered client sitting all alone at the counsel table—to the hospital to deliver Sam (a huge thank you to the trial judge and prosecutor for their sincere concern). I had severe complications; Sam was perfectly fine; and my client, who was on bond and enjoyed a reprieve until I was back, ended up with probation in the end. Then, on April 18, our youngest brother, Randy, died suddenly from his addiction; and on April 22 my middle brother, George, got married. To say April was a hard, rollercoaster ride of emotions for us is the understatement of the year.
At some point we will all experience some sort of emotional interruption in our practice—whether good, bad, or both. The question is how do we deal with such interruptions. There is no stock answer, and I certainly don’t pretend to have it. Perhaps dealing with interruptions to our own life is more difficult for us because our job, in essence, is to manage the problems of others. We must take care of ourselves and each other. To be a criminal defense lawyer is, at a rudimentary level, to have deep empathy for others. Why else do we care that the rights of a relative stranger have been violated? Why else do we care that a relative stranger is being treated unfairly in our view?
We have chosen a hard profession. The hours are long. The cases are hard. We lose more than we win. “Thank you’s” are the exception rather than the rule. Often, we are the lawyer, officer manager, accountant, and cleaning staff all at the same time. It is taxing on its own.
No matter what happens in life, though, we can’t forget to live, easy as it seems to be sometimes. Someone is always depending on us. We must find and revel in the happy moments. We must do what we can to effectuate positive change and influence on a personal and professional level. Our family has chosen to focus on remembrance and prevention of unnecessary deaths due to addiction.
Our dad had a million different sayings—Rolandisms. Two come to mind:
- Life is like spaghetti; it’s messy but it sure is good
- Keep on keepin’ on
It seems to me that this is as much advice on life as it is advice on how to be an effective criminal defense lawyer. Criminal defense law is more a prizefight than a ballet; it is gritty, messy, long work. But it sure is good. And often enough, that work goes unappreciated. Sometimes we win, but more often, it seems, we lose. But we keep on going, because there are more people who need us. That, in some sense, is what makes our work so taxing: It never ends; there is no finish line. Instead, we keep on keepin’ on.