The Highest Calling of a Lawyer - Which far too few lawyers experience

Last week I had the privilege and the honor to sit in a courtroom  in San Antonio for two days with several of the best lawyers in the state of Texas.None of the lawyers were getting paid to be there. In fact, we all had to pay for the privilege by paying our own travel expenses and lodging. In other words, we were all there pro bono. I'll be the first to admit that my role was minor, because the bulk of the work had already been done. Two excellent lawyers, Michael where and Keith Hampton had already done the work to get there.

We were all there for the case that has been labeled by the media as the San Antonio Four. They were four young women who were convicted in 1997 and 1998 of a bizarre sexual offense involving the niece of one of the women. In my mind, they are all absolutely and completely innocent. The hearing was to try and establish that. The first-round had already been won, and when the District Attorney's Office agreed to grant relief based on inaccurate testimony from a's SAME nurse. The only remaining question was whether we could meet the difficult burden of establishing actual innocence.

When I first started practicing law, it was generally accepted that everyone did their fair share of pro bono work. That was the way to pay back what you had received. Before I started practicing some of it was even forced on lawyers, when they were required to represent defendants who cannot afford to do so. I remember stories of older lawyers talking about hiding in the back of the courtroom when criminal defendants were brought in,  hoping the judge wouldn't see them.  Fortunately that has changed, although not nearly enough in some areas.

Unfortunately, I have seen a decrease in the willingness of lawyers to devote time to doing such work, especially in the postconviction area. It's probably not a coincidence that all of the lawyers except one in San Antonio last week were middle-aged and above. I think that is changing some, with the emphasis of some law schools like Baylor on providing pro bono work.

I became a lawyer because I actually believed in the concept of justice. I know a lot of people say that, but you can generally tell a lawyer whoI truly believes that from those who merely say it because it sounds good. The truth is in the money. Lawyers who truly believe in justice are willing to take on cases even though the defendants may not have money, or enough money to pay. That doesn't mean they charge low fees, or take every case. However, they do take take on cases they believe in, and believe that an injustice has been done. That is how all of us got involved in this case, as well as others.

When you far more lawyers to take that on. You want strike it rich, but you will receive a reward far greater than even the biggest fee can provide. If you are interested in working with the Innocence Project of Texas we always need help. Reach out and contact us and we can find you something to do; I guarantee you won't regret it.

Walter Reaves
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Criminal Defense Attorney Walter Reaves has been practicing law for over 30 years.
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