Actus Reus

ac·tus re·us \ˈak-təs-ˈrē-əs, ˈäk-tu̇s-ˈrā-u̇s\

noun : the wrongful act that makes up the physical action of a crime

Latin: guilty act

Reflections from the Criminal Defense Clinic – Daniel Cunny (Fall 2012)

The law doesn’t help enough. You need more.

Part of what I’ve gained from the last semester in the Criminal Defense Clinic is a better understanding of makes a good lawyer, I entered the semester with a belief that a good lawyer had an understanding of the law, and an ability to make a strong legal argument based on that knowledge. I’m exiting the semester with a different belief.

From what I’ve seen this semester, a legal argument, or at least a legal argument alone, is not the best way to accomplish a client’s goals. A lawyer needs more.

A lawyer needs to be creative and confident in that creativity.

When Alex read his “keystone” and later “worker bee” arguments, I thought to myself, that is such a bunch of bs, who does this guy think he is? I since have come around to embrace that creative spirit. When I sit down and begin to write an argument, I think to myself, “how would Alex explain this?” Creativity makes people listen; they pay attention when your words are different. Why was I dismissive of creativity? I didn’t want to be different. I’ve since come to the conclusion that I have no right to be concerned about being different. If it helps the client, it needs to be done.

A lawyer needs to be compassionate and committed to his client.

“Perhaps no professional shortcoming is more resented than procrastination,” states the professional rules. How do you keep one hundred percent committed to you client at all times? l haven’t figured it out yet, but I know I will be better if I do. However, the last semester in the clinic has shown me the importance of diligence. There is always more that you can do. More time thinking and preparing your client’s case never hurts.

A lawyer needs to establish and promote an emotional connection to his cause.

I would be lying if didn’t say I thought to myself a few times, “Oh boy, [] is ranting again.” I think [] has the right idea though. Having and voicing a strong opinion prepare you to voice emotion when you are making an argument for your client. The law can be molded to fit any sides’ goal. If the law couldn’t produce unjust outcomes, why does our profession exist? Emotional arguments augment and can even eclipse a legal argument. Appealing to a person’s sense of right and wrong is powerful stuff, more powerful than an interpretation of something than written in a statute book. A lawyer needs the ability to stand up and convincingly show, “something is wrong here, the law has made a mistake.”

As I think about the situations I was in this semester, it wasn’t understanding the law or making a good legal argument that kept me from completely screwing up, it was all those other skills or traits. Understanding the law isn’t enough, you need more to be a good lawyer. The Criminal Defense Clinic has opened my eyes to what else is I need know.

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