Noah Weil on Being a Criminal Defense Lawyer
Why did you go to law school?
I have always been drawn to strategic pursuits. For a while I played poker for a living. At one point I was ranked on a world-class level in a trading card game, travelling internationally for tournaments. I also wrote weekly columns and event reports, making me very comfortable with the writing and editing process. Helpful skills all for a career in the law.
I was also told since I was 4 I would be a good attorney. I loved to argue. I had no problem confronting what I felt were unfair practices. When I decided I was ready to take my next step and begin an actual career, law school was the natural option. Plus the incident I reference below limited my job prospects somewhat, which made me feel I needed more education.
When you went to law school, did you intend to become a criminal defense lawyer?
No, my undergrad background was in applied (therapeutic) psychology. My initial plan was to become involved in mediation. Everything I had done before law school involved interacting with or communicating with people in some way so I did know going in that my practice area was going to involve working directly with people. As it turned out criminal defense was a far better fit for me.
What convinced you to become a criminal defense lawyer?
I did a Rule 9 internship with Burns Peterson at Associated Counsel for the Accused. It was a transformative experience. At the time I was also interning with a civil attorney who was burned out and clearly not excited to be doing the work. ACA was full of motivated people excited to be working on the side of angels. The teamwork of ACA in particular, and the “underdog” aspect of criminal defense in general, thoroughly appealed to me. Even as a private attorney I still very much appreciate being part of the criminal defense community.
Have you ever been a prosecutor?
Although ethical prosecutors are necessary for our system to function, I’ve never been drawn to that side of the aisle.
Who is/are your mentor(s)? What have you learned from them?
Jeff Cohen volunteered to be my mentor through WACDL and he’s been incredibly generous with his time. From Jeff I have learned about the relationship aspects involved in the work, the proclivities and preferences of opposing counsel, of judges, etc. Besides providing knowledge from his wealth of experience, he has also given me a new perspective on the practice itself.
I’ll also say the entire WACDL community is amazingly supportive of attorneys, new and experienced, when they need some help. I’m always honored when someone gives me a hand, and grateful I have the opportunity to assist others on occasion.
Tell us about a case you worked on that made you proud to be a defense lawyer:
Early on in my career, in a county I rarely appeared, I was appointed to a Violating a No-Contact Order case. The client had active probation and the new case was very challenging to defend. The prosecutor, an arrogant young attorney like myself, made an offer of 15 months in custody. Client and I agreed not to plead to a crime when the sentence would be more than a felony and instead roll the dice at trial.
The prosecutor was flabbergasted I would try the case with no chance of winning. He was right—the deliberations were quick. But, the judge ultimately sentenced my client to 10 months, which meant we had made the right call.
I was proud to defend my client and make the state work for its conviction, and proud when future cases in front of that prosecutor had more productive negotiations. I learned, and have never forgotten, the ability of a criminal defense lawyer to find wins in a variety of situations.
Why did you do criminal defense?
When I was younger I got in trouble and ended up charged with a misdemeanor. I was young and dumb and the prosecutor convinced me it would go better for me if I waived my right to an attorney and just pleaded guilty to his offer. Which I did.
Many years later I learned just how offensive that prosecutor’s conduct was to our system of justice. Since I began working in criminal defense I’ve made it a personal passion that anyone charged with a crime will know their rights, and have dedicated, communicative, effective counsel working on their behalf. Looking back that youthful mistake of judgment has made me a far more effective attorney.
Briefly describe your practice.
Communication, communication, communication. My clients always know what’s going on with the case, the plan of attack, what’s likely to happen at the next hearing, and anything else they need to know, or want to know. I work with a lot of people who have never been involved in the criminal justice system, and are understandably scared. My hope is, if I’m not always able to give them good news, to at least let them know where things stand. My clients appreciate an honest perspective and, having been there myself, know how important the case is to their lives.
What else would you like WACDL members to know about you/your practice?
Me: I have two kids and will show you pictures of them until my phone runs out of battery.
My practice: In my office I have a painting showing Jack McCoy at a campfire alongside Detective Briscoe playing the guitar. It’s the best.