Saturday, January 28, 2012

Rule #22: "Wear a Suit"

One of the first things we notice about someone is their style of dress. We make judgements about their personality, their state of mind, their confidence. And perceptions aren't just important, they may be everything. Seems simple enough.

I enjoy wearing suits. I believe my clients like it when they see me in one. My wife tells me I'm handsome in a suit. Prospective clients expect to see their lawyer-to-be in one. I've got a closet full of them. So for goodness sake . . . wear a suit.

Each time I meet with a client (except maybe weekends) or tussle with a prosecutor I like wearing a suit. When a client first meets me I want to make clear I'm a pro. In my business pros wear a suit.  Nobody was ever impressed with a flip-flopper. Perception can be the difference between signing a new client or losing a sale.

So the rule is wear a suit. You just never know when perception will be everything. Appearances matter and first impressions last, especially in the life and work of a criminal defense attorney.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Rule #13: "Never Give Up, Never Surrender"

I didn't write this Rule for me, I wrote it for my friend. "Never Give Up, Never Surrender." I lived this Rule so she could see it in action. I wanted to show her the value of pushing forward . . . even in the face of certain defeat. I wanted her to learn about our professional responsiblity to fight until the end, until we had no more opportuntiy to fight, until we had no more energy to fight. She was the best I ever had. The brightest, the fastest, the one who made sure I was never attacked from behind. The one who made sure I did my best.

I wrote this Rule because I knew where she was going. She didn't know yet even though she thought she did. But I knew she was headed straight for hell-on-earth and I was trying to teach her how to survive there . . . to give her something to grasp when life seemed impossible to live. 

When she reads this she'll know it's about her. And she now understands about hell-on-earth. About fighting battles and wondering why she doesn't win. About doing her best, but coming up short. I know she's also learning we must often retreat and regroup . . . before we can attack again. That retreating is not giving up, it is not surrender. Sometimes we must retreat to find our energy and our center again. Our reason for pushing forward in the face of uncertainty, and even defeat. 

I won't allow her to quit because I understand her dream. I understand it because it was my dream, too. Because we all need someone pushing us from behind and pulling us from the front to get to our dream. There will be no giving up! There will be no surrender!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Rule #11: "Deny, Delay, & Defend"

Ok, this one isn't original. But it's still a good one and worthy of my list. The 3 Ds of criminal defense work; Deny, Delay, & Defend.

The first thing the police want is a confession.  Let's face it . . . a good confession makes their job so much easier. My advice to folks . . . the targets of criminal investigations . . . is to keep your mouths shut. Speak to no one on the planet, except your criminal lawyer. And for goodness sake, if you're going to say anything, at least DENY it. Since once you admit, you are probably toast.

I love DELAY. It gives me time to work. It mucks-up the system and judges loath it. It helps my case get old, mildewed, and smelly.  We don't want speedy trials.  Speedy trials are bad for the accused. Provided my client is keeping out of trouble, DELAY can do wonderful things to a criminal case. Witnesses forget, get in trouble themselves, move off. Prosecutors get sick of my case . . . and me. I love it. It works. As long as they haven't convicted my client, we've got hope. DELAY whenever you can.

Finally, DEFEND. Defend only when you must. Frankly, defending a criminal case often doesn't work out well for the accused. It's a fact of life. Juries are unpredicable, they sometimes want blood. Judges are mean. Prosecutors, well, prosecutors need to get a life. In any case, DEFEND if you must, but only as a last resort. It's tough out there, you know.

Bryan/College Station criminal appeal lawyer, Steve Gustitis, has practiced criminal law exclusively since 1990. First as an assistant district attorney with Brazos County and then in private defense practice. He is Texas Board Certified in criminal law and committed to the aggressive and ethical defense of citizens accused of crime.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Victim of an Illegal Police Detention

I enjoy walking in my neighborhood late at night.  It's quiet and dark.  The constellations are beautiful and I often see shooting stars streak across the night sky.  Now and then I'll see a man-made satellite move like a freight train low on the horizon. I'm regularly startled by white-tailed deer snorting deep in the woods. I occasionally see their dark silhouettes cross my path. Coyotes yip and howl and get all the neighborhood dogs in an uproar. 

But last night on my walk I was the victim of an illegal police detention. You see, my late night walks in the neighborhood had created quite a stir. Little did I know the local sheriff's department had a BOLO out on me. A tall suspicious man, dressed in black gloves, dark trousers, camouflaged coat, and dark cap had been regularly seen in the neighborhood . . . late at night. Sometimes he was seen running. Always avoiding oncoming traffic. But you see, my neighbors just didn't get out much. That was my favorite fleece jacket, my most comfortable black jeans, the warmest wool ski cap I've ever owned, and the best pair of cycling gloves on the market. 

So you know I was astonished at about 11:00pm when a sheriff's deputy came screaming down Indian Lakes Blvd. with his emergerncy lights rolling and his spotlight shining directly in my eyes. I was almost home . . . no more than 1/2 a mile from my house. "Sir, can you come with me please?"  Ha!  I knew it was a bad stop. The officer had no "reasonable suspicion" I was involved in any criminal activity. Just a bunch of noisy neighbors who didn't get out much wondering why some strange guy in camouflage and gloves was out walking in the dark each night.

I could have kept walking but I decided to submit to the officer's authority. Even though I knew this was a bad stop, I also knew I'd get patted down if I refused to cooperate. I also didn't want the Benchmade 581 Barrage assisted-opening folder I had in my pocket mistaken for a switchblade. I would have beaten that rap, but not the ride downtown. So I stopped and told the officer who I was.

You see, I know most of the cops in town. When I identified myself the officer immediately asked if I was the "lawyer Gustitis."  "Yes I am," I said. Out on my evening walk, enjoying the stars and the yipping coyotes. He apologized for not recognizing me, seeing how my wool cap was pulled down over my ears and forehead. He explained how the neighbors had been calling in a suspicious person report for weeks, but they'd never been able to catch the guy. I laughed and said, "Yea, that's me." No home invader, no burglar, just little-old-me trying to get some excercise and enjoy the night air.  But I still didn't tell him about my Benchmade, heck, he might have taken it for his own.

The kids got a kick of the story. I told them tonight I'm wearing my full-faced leather ski mask. That should get the neighbors in a stir.  You see, they just don't get out much.  If they did, they'd know it was little-old me out for a bit of excercise. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Rule #29: "Think First, Talk Second"

I learned this one the hard way . . . clients hanging on my every word; their future at stake.  Jurors, as well . . . watching to discern my true intentions. Am I a liar selling shoes or a truth teller with a righteous cause? Opposing counsel listens intently for signs of weakness, an admission, or a mistake which might give them the advantage. 

Mostly, I'm talking on the run, thinking on my feet, responding to the most recent volley from an opponent. Which words do I choose? Which tone of voice . . . quick words or slow?  How do I utter them with sincerity, compassion, indignation? What is needed at that precise moment to achieve my purpose? Well, I've got to think about it first. 

Law school teaches you none of this. Only the trenches helped train me to think about each word and its effect in the moment just before release. Only the trenches taught me to practice my delivery in my mind . . . just before the hearer hears. The hard way, my mistakes, taught me the way.

I train my people to think like this. It's difficult, it's unnatural, they don't like to do it. But it's necessary. I train my people to think about their words before they make a sound. It can be the difference between making a sale, or losing a client. The difference between maintaining credibility or losing it, or promising too much.

It's necessary . . . it's Gustitis' Rule #29. Think before you speak. You'll never regret it. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Gustitis' Rules

Throughout the fictional CBS television series NCIS, Leroy Jethro Gibbs periodically reveals his numbered rules to live by . . . his Code. (Gibbs' Rules) Rule #1 is "Never screw over your partner." Rule #2 is "Always wear gloves at a crime scene." Rule #15 is "Always work as a team." There are over fifty rules in all. Rules which he learned over the course of his life as a Marine Corps sniper and NCIS Special Agent.  

In my work as a criminal defense attorney I - like Gibbs - have developed a set of rules . . . my Code. Rule #1 is "Always keep your promises." Rule #6 is "Read everything in the file." Rule #22 is "Wear a suit."  I've got over 40 rules to live by.  My rules have come from my life in the legal profession, but extend further into everyday life and character development, as well. In the coming weeks I'll be posting Gustitis' Rules, my Code, here on my blog. Stay tuned.