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Defense Lawyers: How to Deal With Defeat

By Mark Wilson, Esq. | Last updated on

You've tried your hardest, but in spite of your best efforts, your client still got convicted. What is there to do? What did you do wrong? What could you have done better?

Cheer up, that's what. Losing is a part of being a lawyer; no one wins all the time. Take solace in your defeat, though. It's a learning experience, and hey, it might not even be a defeat for long.

1. There's always an appeal

An appeal gives your client another bite at the apple. If the trial court did something you really disagree with, file a notice of appeal. And if the court did something that basically doomed your client, like deny your motion to suppress evidence, then you definitely want to appeal. Those kinds of cases usually present issues of constitutional significance.

2. Talk to the jury

If your case has gone all the way to a jury, and you lost, you can actually talk to jurors afterward if they'll speak with you. Many lawyers find these post-verdict interviews invaluable, as it lets them know what they might have done wrong and how the jury perceived what you thought was a "brilliant" strategy. At the end of the day, you can't rely on your own evaluation of yourself. The jury is the audience, and what they think is all that matters.

3. It's not your fault

Sometimes, you just have bad facts. Sometimes, you just have bad law. Sometimes, you have both. Lawyers like to think that they can argue any side of any controversy, but in real life, it can be extraordinarily difficult to exonerate a defendant who was seen by multiple eyewitnesses and whose fingerprints were on the gun. (Maybe in that situation, you'd take the plea deal.) At that point, it comes down more to making the best of a bad situation, as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's lawyers had to.

4. You didn't raise your client's expectations, did you?

Not only did you suffer a personal blow to your ego, but something way more important just happened: Your client is going to prison now. You can preemptively avoid some of the harsh feelings between the two of you by not getting your client's hopes up. Let him or her know that there's a chance that, no matter how brilliant your presentation, he or she might get convicted.

5. Don't dwell on it

Your worth as a person isn't tied to your job. Sure, you lost a case, but so what? You'll win other cases, too. Learn your lessons, pick yourself up, and move on. Captain Ahab couldn't move on, and look where that got him. If you dwell on the past for too long, then you'll risk ignoring the present, which is where life actually happens.

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