One of the pleasures I had while writing my novel, The Guilty, was using
my characters to explore how lawyers see themselves, their profession and their
clients. It was a chance to say things I was not always free to say in my
practice. As I’ve mentioned earlier, any idealism was pretty much ground to
dust after a very few years of working as a defense attorney. Of course how
cynical and how fed up one gets depends on the individual lawyer and his
In this excerpt from The Guilty, a rookie lawyer, Peter Kouri, speaks to
the senior partner of his firm, and the protagonist of my novel, Robert Bratt.
Kouri has been watching Bratt preparing the defense for their client, a street gang member accused of a brutal
double-murder, and he finds himself wondering about what “rules” the lawyer is
following while going about his work. Although the story is told entirely from
Bratt's point of view, I was able to use Kouri's presence in certain scenes as
well as his reactions to paint a picture of Bratt that the senior lawyer, and
the reader, might not have otherwise been aware of.
“What’s on your mind?”
Kouri paused before answering, as if trying to make up his mind whether
to go on or not.
“Is it always like this?” he finally asked.
“Ah, good question…What’re you talking about?”
“Law. The practice. Are things always so, I don’t know, ambiguous?”
Bratt thought the choice of words was interesting, and quite
“It depends on how much time you spend thinking about things. For some
guys, it’s all black and white. They don’t think too much about what they’re
doing, and there are few gray areas in their approach to the job. It’s always
us against them. Maybe that’s the best way to be: just do your job and leave
the bigger questions to priests and philosophers.”
Bratt contemplated his own words, feeling the need to somehow explain, if
not defend, his own doubts of late.
“But let me tell you something,” he continued. “When you’re in court, you
really can’t have any doubt that that’s exactly what it is: us against them.”
“And when we’re not in court?”
“It’s still us against them, only the ‘them’ includes a lot more people.”
Bratt knew what Kouri was looking for from him and he thought it was a
good idea the young lawyer found it out early in his career.
“Like our own clients.”
Kouri nodded his head, as if he had expected this answer from Bratt.
“That’s the part I’ve been wondering about.”
“It’s not just now. I’ve been wondering about it for a while. Especially
since I’ve seen you talk to Small, or talking about him when he’s not around.
You really don’t believe him, do you?”
“You know the answer to that.”
“Yeah, I know. What I don’t know is, why not? I mean, am I so naïve?”
“You are naïve. Not about Marlon Small so much as about the nature of our
profession. So, here’s rule number one, and if you only remember this rule
you’ll be ahead of most new lawyers. When you take on a criminal case, every
single person you deal with, every cop, every opposing lawyer, every witness,
and absolutely every client you ever take on, will lie to you without
hesitation when they think it’s in their best interests to do so. In the game
of law you can’t depend on anyone to help you and you can’t trust anyone,
especially your client.”