Mental Health and North Carolina Public Defenders


            Yesterday, Friday, May 14, I had the opportunity to speak at the Spring Meeting of the North Carolina Public Defenders in Raleigh. I was the last speaker of the three day event, and my topic was Mental Health studies, which is a CLE requirement for North Carolina attorneys. That explains why almost 250 lawyers were still there at the end.  They had to have this hour, and it is a difficult one to find.


            But the morning had its surprises for me. First up was a lawyer from Winston-Salem, who came up to me, shook my hand, and said it was “nice to see me again…I stayed because you were the speaker’.  Turned out he and I went to high school together at Reynolds years ago in Winston. We then spent at least ten minutes remembering everyone we knew and all the girls we had wanted to date but never could.


            And then Brian Collins, the Wake County Public Defender, came up to me, started talking, and I related the story of how I was happy to be speaking to a room of defense attorneys because I wanted to tell them Wade Smith’s advice to simply “take it’  all those years ago with no pre-arranged deal.  I have long thought that advice was largely responsible for my surviving that unhappy time.  But I told Brian that a number of folks thought Wade was either crazy or brilliant for that advice.  Brian laughed and said he knew the answer to that – it was brilliance, but only someone like Wade would have the nerve to give that advice and live with the consequences if it all went south.


            There’s the rub…being willing to live with the consequences if the results of a case don’t turn out like you think they will or should, even though you are following your best instincts in giving advice. Too many folks don’t do that…they should.  That is one of the traits that can separate a good lawyer from a great one.  Be confident enough to follow yourself.  When you tell someone to simply “take their best shot – accept full responsibility- and let it ride”…well then, you may be surprised at the result.  You do very well.


            Finally, I can’t let this writing finish without telling you that I asked for a show of hands as to how many of them loved what they did and were passionate about their careers.  A majority of the room raised their hands.  Amazing. In every other venue of lawyers I have spoken to over the years, it is often the opposite.  But here, with these public defenders, representing people at the low end of the legal food chain, and being paid not much themselves…they love what they do.  Money doesn’t always buy happiness.


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