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It is not uncommon to see attorneys practicing criminal justice change sides from defense to prosecution, or vice versa, when they decide it's time for a career change. While sometimes (or probably most of the time) this change is fueled by more lucrative job opportunities, it can also be the result of a change in a lawyer's moral compass.
Once in a rare while, the switching of sides is actually a means to an end (other than more money). When defense and civil rights attorneys seek election as district attorneys, there is often a political or social agenda spawned from their experience defending individuals and their rights.
When cities need help due to prosecutors or police gone wild, that's often when you see defense attorneys step up to the prosecutorial plate in order to fight injustice from the inside.
Terence Hallinan, the local San Francisco lawyer celebrity (of sorts), achieved notoriety for making the switch, back in the 90s, from civil rights and criminal defense practice to becoming the city's District Attorney. During his time in office, due to his political views, he refused to prosecute nearly all drug crimes in order to focus city police resources on more important matters. After losing to Kamala Harris in 2003, he returned to private practice.
Now, Larry Krasner, the recently elected DA in Philadelphia, appears poised to pick up the same torch Hallinan held as San Francisco's DA. While he hasn't vowed to not prosecute drug offenders, he has been vocal about his refusal to buckle to the White House pressures to end "sanctuary cities." Also, he hopes to reform a system that he believes unfairly incarcerates the poor. Though he has been called "anti-law enforcement," he looks forward to working with the police to clean up the department.
Fortunately for most of us, there is no need to go out campaigning if you want to trade tables with your opposing counsel. In fact, you don't even need to change your practice area, nor do anything more than seek out the work you want. If you are at a firm that specializes in plaintiffs or defense work, you may need to relocate your practice, but even that is not a hard and fast rule.
If you're just curious and maybe want to get your feet wet without quitting your current job, or closing down your private practice in order to rebrand, there are always volunteer opportunities and pro bono cases available.
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