Getting Over My Giant Failure Complex

It’s a little embarrassing how many times I’ve written this to you, how many ways I’ve slid references to my giant failure complex into blog posts without really addressing it. I’ve made bold claims that I’m going to stop thinking of myself as a failure and start loving the life I’m currently living in a dozen half-hearted ways, but so far I’m still just rocking back and forth on life’s teeter totter: At the top, I am so ridiculously relieved that I am working (because others I love aren’t) and that I have a healthy work-life balance and that my job is mostly fun and engaging, but when the see-saw rocks downward I remember that I thought I would be doing something different.

The “L” word still makes me feel like a loser.

I know in my heart that I am where I need to be, but I have to remind myself all the time that this life I’m living is something to celebrate, not something to mourn. Sometimes I have to say it to friends and have them say it back to me, to tell me it’s okay.  I know that I’m not the only one, but I often feel alone with this. I fold this idea into so much of my blogging because, while this blog is many things to me and hopefully a few things to you, its chief purpose right now is to remind me that life is beautiful and fun and it’s okay to just be who you are I am right now.

I loved law school. I’m not one to say “Oh, it was so hard and I’m so glad it is over,” and I’ve never regretted attending. It was one of the best things I’ve ever committed to doing. It made me smarter and more attentive and a better person. Even now, while I’m not practicing, I still did all of the things to be a licensed attorney and I can go back to being a “real” lawyer whenever I want to, if I ever really want to.

I’m getting tired of trying so hard to convince myself that I am awesome and that I am making a real difference by working hard for my country.  I am already doing these things and it’s become a bit of a broken record for me (and I’m sure not all that interesting for you, my friends). I’d like for this to become a non-issue for me, but it may be a few more months or years before I can really settle into owning my own life and living it for myself. I struggle to surpass expectations that don’t actually exist.

But I think for recovering people-pleasers and perfectionists like me, we often feel like posers in our late twenties. We’re wearing the hats and carrying big titles on freshly minted business cards but are we really good enough to hold this much responsibility? Friends from school are carrying the lives and hopes and dreams of two, or three, or four children already and I can’t imagine ever being qualified for such a hard and important job. Do you ever really feel like you know how to be a mother, a manager, a professor or scholar, or do you just jump in, throwing ideas at the wall, hoping something sticks? I’m always afraid that someone will look over and see that I’m really not as awesome as everyone thinks.  I wonder, if they knew how much television I watched in the evenings, and how rarely I finish the books I’m always buying, if they would still want me to mentor their students, or file their taxes, or write their reports.

I paid real cash monies to register for a faith and writing conference in Grand Rapids in April. And I’ve decided that I don’t want to go to this conference feeling that I’m not qualified to be there. I don’t want to awkwardly shift on my feet or avoid meeting interesting people because when they say “Oh, I write a blog about faith and life and my book is being published in October,” and then ask about me, I don’t have a good enough answer. I want to do whatever it takes before I pick up my rental car and drive two hours and forty-seven minutes around the bottom of Lake Michigan so that, when I step out of my car and into the conference, I believe I am a “real” writer and I believe that I am qualified to engage, network, discuss, and struggle with them to create beautiful sentences.

Tomorrow, Thursday, February 20, is the first of fifty days before my conference begins. This may be a rough-and-tumble sort of commitment, but I’ll be doing “the things that writers do” for each of these fifty days so that I can step into the Grand Rapids community with a few pages I can be proud of, with a project I can discuss, or at the very least with the confidence that I certainly belong at the table. I’m not sure exactly what this will look like, but I’m starting this effort off with a Story Sessions writing boot camp and I’ve been thinking a bit about what I want this to journey to include. I have a working list, but before I put it out into the internet world I wanted to hear from you: what do you recommend? What makes you feel like a “real” writer, or a “real” professional, or a “real” mom, instead of just a poser? What gives you confidence in your calling?  

Check Out My Bookshelf: A Link-Up!

Today I’m sharing my bookshelf, as part of a link-up of bloggers who love books.  Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy wrote that she loves to see others’ bookshelves, that it helps her find common ground with the people in her life.  I’m excited about participating in this link-up because I agree that what people read, and which books they hold on to, says a lot about them.  I’m looking forward to checking out the submissions!

Personally, I hate letting go of a book.  I want to SAVE THEM ALL forever.  I have this fear that I’ll want to quote something I read and won’t be able to find the right book.  As if any day now I could be asked to prepare an essay on literature or history to save my life or the lives of others.  I know it’s not a realistic worry, but I still struggle to let them go.  I want to own all of the books since my brain cannot hold all of the knowledge.

The most embarrassing part of that struggle is that many of the books I’ve picked up over the years because I wanted to “read” them and “know” the contents, I haven’t actually gotten around to reading.  I want to have all of the important books, but  I will often choose to spend my free time watching a movie or going shopping.  The books I want to know and understand are meaty and intense, but my brain gets used up at work and these books that I want to soak up and study and understand just sit, unloved, on the shelf.

Since we’ve just moved, my bookshelves make absolutely no sense.  I’ve packed the books in any-which-way just so they aren’t in boxes.  It’s amazing how many books can fit on a shelf if you don’t care at all how it looks.  Here’s a snapshot into my bookshelf:

Top Shelf

The top shelf is crammed full.  As I unpacked, I stacked books on the top shelf first, so most of my favorites are on this level.  These books are nearly all mine, if we ignore H’s Michael Crichton sitting in the bottom right corner.  Some highlights from this shelf include:

  • Christy, Catherine Marshall.  Favorite childhood book.
  • My dad’s copy of Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand.
  • Two books from my freshman Honors course, neither of which I have finished:  Consilience, Edward O. Wilson, and The Great Chain of Being, Arthur O. Lovejoy. I’m actually a huge fan of The Great Chain of Being even though I haven’t completed it, because it traces the history of an idea back to a place I didn’t think it would go.  It’s dense and boring, though, so hard to consume.  I read it a lot while flying back and forth to Minnesota to visit H last summer.
  • Canterbury Tales, a few history books from college, Zadie Smith’s On Beauty.
  • A bright yellow copy of Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist.  Loving it.

Shelf 2

This shelf has a pretty strong mix of H’s books (do you see the Book of Basketball?  The Life of Reilly?).  It also has some Harry Potter, a Marketing Textbook, and the last Twilight book.  In the top left corner is the biography of Chuck Norris that a sweet friend gave me as a gift.  Because Chuck Norris is awesome.

  • Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure.
  • Gerald Rosenberg’s The Hollow Hope.
  • Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

shelf 3

The third shelf is an interesting mix of elements of my life.  You’ll see several philosophy textbooks (something I want to study further so didn’t sell back after college), two favorite history textbooks, a Norman Shield from my days as a sorority Chapter Advisor, and the Hunger Games trilogy.  Also stuck in there:

  • Harmon’s Handbook for Literature.
  • Pat Robertson’s The Ten Offenses.  Opposition research.
  • Yann Martel’s Life of Pi (I love this book, and the movie was beautiful!).
  • Jon Meachum’s The American Gospel — a recent favorite, which I highly recommend.

Well, that’s it!  If you’d like to share your own bookshelf, or if you’d like to read through all of the posts and find some new favorite books or favorite bloggers, check out the link-up at  [I’ll update this link once the link-up goes live.]  UPDATE:  Link-up Here!  

Not Working is Ruining Everything

So I had this plan:

Work hard, work a lot, retire young, do whatever I want all day long.

After more than a week of doing whatever I want all day, I really just want to go back to work.  I still wake up between 6:15 and 7:00 to watch the morning news.  I drink coffee in my pajamas waiting for some kind of news — anything, really, that is different from what they said the day before.  When Chuck Todd comes on, I try to find something productive to do — something like taking a shower or eating breakfast.

I check my emails and continuously refresh the Washington Post website and flip on CSPAN.  Nothing is more disappointing than watching people who are elected to represent you and your neighbors say things that cannot possibly be true.  It cannot possibly be 100% X’s fault and also 100% Y’s fault without someone being incorrect.  I do not understand how no one answers questions or tells the whole truth.  Direct questions do not receive direct answers.  The same history of events is told completely differently by people who were there together.  Do we not have cameras filming all the time?  It sure feels like we do.  Can someone not just rewind CSPAN and say “Actually, team, this is what happened, and you didn’t really make any sense then, so you might not want to keep bringing that up?”

After an hour or so of checking emails, texting, facebooking, or tweeting friends, reading all of the blogs in my reader, I’m sick of the nonsense and edit a chapter of a friend’s manuscript.  It’s really a great manuscript, and I am excited to see the final product whenever it is ready.  I write a few paragraphs of something too, but find myself easily distracted and struggle to see purpose.  What is there to write when everything is insane?  I had feelings about these things once, proud feelings about our country’s ability to keep getting better and my choice to be a part of that — but now I just hate feelings and hate thinking and am blocking it out with fall TV premieres. I’m going to write a post for you telling you which shows you should be watching because if anyone knows which new shows are good, I do.  I’ve seen them all.

I will be accompanying my husband to a business dinner tonight.  So I’ll be dressing professionally, applying make-up, and styling my hair for the first time in days.  It’s a good thing I grabbed my nude work heels when I left work last Tuesday, just in case I needed them while I was at home.  I usually keep them in a filing cabinet along with a spare toothbrush and some mints.  Business dinners are hard enough for me, an introvert who’s always been committed to public service making small talk with people who think nothing of giving a $500 bonus to employees for a good job on a single project.  I cannot even imagine getting a bonus for doing a good job.  I’ve been doing a great job this year and my reward was to lose an entire week’s worth of pay from Sequestration. But what exactly will I be able to talk about now?  Certainly not work.

banana bread

I know — I can talk to them about the beautiful loaf of Banana Bread I baked yesterday.  It has a streusel topping, and I cooled it completely before wrapping it and placing it in the freezer.  I can talk to them about the three pounds of meatballs I squished and shaped from breakfast sausage, ground turkey, and ground beef.  I made my own breadcrumbs and these meatballs are pretty dang fantastic.  I wrapped them up and put them in the freezer as well.  I can tell them about my friend’s manuscript — that being a school teacher is dangerous, and important, and scary and hard.

What I want to tell them is the important work I am doing to make America a better, safer place for our children to grow up.  Unfortunately that isn’t what I’ve been doing.

Status Update: Hobby Lobby, Corporations, and Religious Expression

In January of this year, I wrote in a moment of frustration that my newsfeed was full of America Hates Christians Because: Hobby Lobby posts, and articulated my position that the Constitution doesn’t say you get to do whatever you want to and don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.

In comments on the blog and on other social media sites, we discussed the difference between a person – who eats and sleeps and feels and thinks and believes – and a company/corporation, which is a legal entity that isn’t necessarily able to eat or sleep or feel or think or believe in all contexts.  And I explained that people have religious beliefs and religious expressions, but that I wasn’t so sure that companies do and if they did, I wasn’t sure how they would be evaluated by the court system.  I believe it is important to tell whole stories, and this story has changed a bit over the last ten months, so I am here to give you a little more information. 

Since I published that post, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals held that for-profit corporations can be “persons” who exercise religion under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and that Free Exercise rights may extend to some for-profit organizations.  (See page 26 of the opinion.)  The Third Circuit Court of Appeals went the other way on a similar case brought by Conestoga Wood Specialties, a woodworking company owned by a Mennonite family, concluding that “for-profit, secular corporations cannot engage in religious exercise.”  (See the entire opinion here.)

Thus, we’re headed for the Supreme Court to answer the question.  After reading some legal scholarship on the issue, I’m a bit more convinced that this could work – that, at least academically, a for-profit corporation could assert a free exercise claim under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  In the context of corporate rights and freedoms, I agree that it seems weird to treat for-profit corporations differently from non-profit corporations (a.k.a. churches) in this regard.  I still feel uncomfortable with the idea that a corporation can have religious beliefs (Hobby Lobby the company certainly cannot walk down the aisle and be born again according to my understanding of Christianity!), but that does not prevent me from recognizing the argument as valid.

I think this discussion is incredibly interesting and I’m following it here-and-there to see what happens next.  If you’d like to follow it also, I recommend Volokh Conspiracy’s coverage as they usually cover both sides of the argument in an intelligent way, and SCOTUSblog for scheduling and the Court’s opinions.  Nothing is showing up for me on the Court’s calendar just yet.

Five [Awesome] Things I Read This Week

Five Awesome things photo

On Growing Up

The Huffington Post’s 23 Things Every Woman Should Stop Doing.  How many times have we heard this about unnecessary apologizing?  And I still do it.  Do you?

On Networking and Professional Dressing

Lydia Dishman for Fast Company asking Do Dress Codes at the Office Work?  For me, dressing for success is more about dressing well and feeling awesome, not dressing in a certain style.  So, good-fitting denim, a stylish blouse and heeled boots make up my go-to Getting All The Things Done outfit.  I am a powerhouse of productivity on Casual Fridays.

Keith Lee’s Natural Networking: Business Development On Your Terms provides tips for expanding your network successfully without selling out.  [Skip the beginning and start reading right under the GIF.  First few paragraphs are a bit meh.]  A quick summary:  just do stuff you like and tell people who you are; connections that develop organically are still connections.

On Adoption Ethics and How We Can Help Better

Kristen Howerton at Rage Against the Minivan wrote an excellent piece critiquing orphan care as the solution to poverty.  It is really amazing and I think everyone in the entire world should read it.  Check out How the Christian orphan care movement may be enabling child abandonment.

On the Government Shutdown and Being a Better Citizen

The Shriver Brief’s post describing how important the federal government is to housing in America, and detailing struggles that could result from a [further] extended government shutdown.  Check out Jeremy Bergstrom’s Government Shutdown Hits Close to Home for Millions of Americans.

And even if politics and government subsidies aren’t your thing, I’m so impressed by The Bloggess’s WE ARE THE GOVERNMENT.  Let’s all get busy making America a country to be proud of, starting right where we are.  Here’s one way we can do that, provided by Kid President.

Thanks for reading!  And, I’ll admit it:  it was actually six links plus a video, but I’m allowed to break the rules on my own blog!  Feel free to share other awesome things you’ve been reading in the comments.


Stand Up While #Shutdown

061* This is a photo of a pirate ship because I can do whatever I want. 

I.  The Good. 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about making this space a larger priority in my life.  These days, so much has been going on and so much has been changing that I’ve avoided writing because any true sentences would probably start and end with “everything is weird and I have no idea how things are going.”

But then I thought it might be time to take up a writing challenge, like writing 100 poems with each line starting with the letter “L,” or a month of daily postings like I did last November, or signing on for this #31Days thing that people are talking about on twitter.  It’s good to have a challenge, you know, and it’s good to commit to something that is good for you, even if you aren’t really sure how it will turn out.

And then America was like “Great Idea, we’ll make it super easy for you:  just stop coming to work indefinitely.”  Thanks, country/employer for verifying that writing more was the right thing to do.

II. The Unfortunate.

It’s so close to the dream, that it is almost hard to complain.  As of today, and for an unknown number of days moving forward, my time is completely in my own control.  I can write at home or from a coffee shop or from basically any place I might want to go, with no rules and no dress code. If I feel like baking cookies or bread or going for a walk or perusing a Chicago-area museum, I can.  The world is mine for the taking – except.  Except I am losing my paycheck each day I’m out of work; except the work I should be doing and that I care about very much is not getting done.

So let me tell you right now:  this is not the dream I had in mind.

III. The Wish.

I could make a lot of comments about how low-income families need government services or about how government workers need their paychecks because MORTGAGES and TUITION PAYMENTS and FOOD IS EXPENSIVE, but if you already think those things matter, my words here won’t change your mind, and if you don’t think those things matter, my words here won’t change your mind either.

However, my colleagues and friends are facing a serious fear because they don’t know by what amount their pay checks will be reduced, and they aren’t sure they will be able to meet their personal financial obligations.  Please try to avoid laughing and belittling that fear the way a Member from my home state just did on national television.  I cannot believe the future of our country lies in the hands of those who represent us so well they laugh publicly at our misfortune, and I long for a time when enough people will find such behavior unacceptable that it is no longer tolerated.  

IV. The Promise.

Regardless of my feelings about being unexpectedly free to write, I am free and I am going to write.  I will not give up this opportunity because it is wrapped in unfortunate circumstances.  And so I will be here, and elsewhere, thinking and dreaming and writing.  I may bake a fancy cake or learn to knit or sew a quilt or practice scales on my guitar until my fingers bleed.  Because while this extended lunch break is certainly not the dream, I’m going to make it count.

Real Life

Hi Friends.  It’s been a hot minute since you’ve gotten an update, so that’s what you are getting today!  Hope you are doing well — can’t wait to hear about your fabulous lives as well.


I told you how I signed up for a writing class thing for the summer, remember?  Well, it doesn’t start until July 1st but during June I’m using Elora’s 30-days of writing prompts geared for finding your purpose.  I’m not even half-way through the prompts, but I’m loving how they excite me about writing and also kick me in the butt for being lazy and not prioritizing my gifts in my own life.  If you’re interested in purchasing the prompts, you can get 30 days of prompts for only $30.  It supports a great writer, and it supports you as a writer, so it’s basically win-win.


In our last update, I mentioned that I might have a position in Chicago but that it was tricky and not certain and that I wasn’t sure if it would be with my old job or my new (same agency but different division) job or something altogether unexpected. . . Well, it’s settled now and I officially have a position and I officially start on August 12th — the same day H starts his new job!  It’s a dream come true for making our physical and financial transition smooth and I am so excited and thankful that it worked out.  I mean, I couldn’t imagine a better scenario.

Well, unless Rahm called me and was like Hey, MB, we really need a lawyer to work for us in the City of Chicago and really, you are the only one we want.  So can you come and re-do our land-use policies and make sure our master plan doesn’t accidentally (or intentionally) discriminate and be in charge of ending homelessness and economic development grants and just spend all of my city budget helping people? And can you please wear jeans and a blazer to work every day, because dress pants just aren’t our style.  That would be a pretty great scenario too. 

The Daily Grind.

H is fishing three days a week and reading Game of Thrones during his well deserved summer break after graduate school, and I’m enjoying my job a lot.  I’m incredibly busy and working on some organizational planning efforts that are complicated and messy and exactly the kind of projects I love.  I’m doing a lot better at getting to work early on time and getting full nights of sleep, and I’m trying to get to the gym twice a week and eat fewer calories and more vegetables.  I even had a glass of wine and a BLT instead of two glasses of beer and a cheeseburger at Trivia last night.  Impressive, I know.

Our Move.

We’re still planning to find an apartment after the July 4th holiday and move up the first weekend in August.  Now that we both have start-dates for our jobs, it’s getting more real.  Once we find our new place in only SIXTEEN DAYS!!! we will schedule our movers.  Between now and then, I’m going to start  going through some of our things and packing/donating.

Let’s talk about donating for a second — do you guys ever feel like Goodwill doesn’t want your donations?  On the day of my last drop-off, I was asked if the clothes I had in sacks had been dry-cleaned and were on individual hangers.  I’m not dry-cleaning t-shirts, but I don’t want to just throw them out.  Is there a better way to donate used items that still have some life in them?

We’re also looking at a lot of furniture stores, because we have a lot of things to purchase in the coming months and want to be responsible about such large expenses.  For a new sofa, we’re considering Basset Furniture — we really liked their selection and service.  We also found this AMAZING coffee table (minus the wheels) but it seems weird to pay so much for something that looks so simple. . . not that furniture making is simple, just that I wish it were so I could have whatever kind of furniture I wanted.  (P.S. Sorry this photo is a little blurry.)



We spent last weekend in Virginia Beach, and we had so much fun EXCEPT that the traffic on I-95 from DC toward Richmond was HORRENDOUS.  When we left at 10:30 a.m. I anticipated arriving by 3:00. . . but it was actually 6:30.  That’s how much traffic it was.

But, it was so fun to get away, and I only took one picture!  Below please find Virginia Beach’s favorite drink, the Orange Crush.



Professional Photo Shoot

Last Friday afternoon I accepted a volunteer leadership position with an organization I am a member of.  It is a fantastic opportunity for me to do legal work in a field I care about, and a great way to expand my network since I’ll be moving to Chicago and basically starting my professional network there from scratch. 

Once I’d accepted, I received a final request that said (paraphrasing here): “Thanks!  Please submit your professional head shot to xxxxxxxxx at [email address] for inclusion in our leadership directory. 

…. ummm, my professional head shot?  Do people normally have those just sitting around? 

Working as a government policy-maker (and not in an Office of General Counsel or fancy-schmancy law firm) has some great perks.  I get to make decisions like, we should do this instead of that “for policy reasons.”  So, even though an idea is technically legal I can argue against it just because it sounds stupid/inefficient/like a bad idea/is unsupported by research/ or is otherwise unlikely to help families and children as much as another idea could or would.  I never have to work more than 40 hours each week and I get great benefits.  But there are things the job doesn’t include that I miss: things like CLE and bar expense reimbursements, administrative leave for lawyer training events and conferences, business cards (yes, really), and a reason and venue for taking professional head shots. 

I’ve been working a little at a time to fill these tiny gaps in my portfolio.  Earlier this year I ordered beautiful name cards from to use while networking, and I was incredibly impressed with the quality of the design and paper/printing.  Today, I had an emergency photo shoot with Gretchen from Honey I Shrunk the Gretchen so I could send a head shot to the organization.  We met up during my lunch break today and had a 30-minute photo shoot plus meet-and-greet in the L’Enfant Plaza-Smithsonian area.  The weather was perfect, Gretchen was fantastic (and funny!), and our hastily planned quick-and-dirty photo shoot was a huge success.  

Check out a few photos from today’s session!  I think Gretchen did a wonderful job of making me look smart AND pretty, and that’s exactly what I was hoping for.  We were able to squeeze in a few more casual shots too, which I will be revealing soon as the blog gets a facelift over the next few months.  Adding professional-quality photos to the blog, linked-in, and other social media accounts has been a goal of mine since last November, and I’m excited to have one more item checked off of that list. 


Three New Blogs and a Fulfilled Promise

There are a few promises I’ve made to you over these last few months that turned out to be flat out lies remain unfulfilled.  It’s time to start making that right.

On March 11th, I told you that I was tired of jumping from online clique to online clique, and that I was going to mix up my blog reader, which would hopefully have a similar impact on my writing style.  I told you that “While faith issues are an important piece of who I am as a writer, that tiny piece of the internet world is not enough on its own. What you read is what you write, and I’m just not cut out for a one-subject career.” 

And while I have not mastered the art of a delightfully varied yet cohesively themed blog yet, I have found some pretty fabulous reads on this here internet.  I tried a lot of new blogs, and while there are a ton of new additions in my reader, these are the top three:

1.  Corporette.

Corporette is the perfect mix of fashion + work tips + balancing family life and work life.  I enjoy the fashion pics — although I don’t always read them — but I absolutely love the comments over there and always learn something from the Weekend Open Thread.  Something work-related you’ve been wondering about, or need a professional woman’s opinion on handling issues with your in-laws?  Need advice on handling a sexist partner in your law firm or how to pick out a maternity suit?  Corporette has you covered.

2.  Modern Mrs. Darcy.

Anne and I are soul mates.  I mean, if your soul mate can be someone who has never heard of you and has no idea you exist.  [Hi, Anne!]  She loves writing and literature and is funny and writes about a good mix of life-things, which is what I want to do, eventually.  Story time:  When asked to introduce myself to the class by explaining which literary character I most identified with and why in my undergrad literature course, I said “Elizabeth Bennet, pre-love discovery.”  Which got some weird looks but was pretty honest, given that I sometimes say inappropriate things in social situations…

3.  Lawyerist.

I just like it.  It’s about lawyering and about life.  I find it so entertaining and sometimes educational.  If you aren’t a lawyer (or a half-lawyer struggling to find your career identity in a policy position…) then you might not love it, but I do.

Post Script

Google Reader is leaving this world in a few months, and I’ve started using Feedly as a replacement.  It is a little less convenient than Reader, since my internet connection can be fuzzy on the metro and it takes a bit longer to load, but the graphics are AMAZING and I’m starting to forget that Reader ever existed.  I especially love the “save for later” feature — it makes Five Things posts incredibly easy.  Check it out.


Five [Awesome] Things I Read This Week: Gideon Edition

Five Awesome Things I Read This Week copy

This week marks the 50th Anniversary of Gideon, and while it is one of the most important cases in our society it is under-represented in American cultural conversations.  So I’m bringing it back.  Just like JT and sexiness.

The Basics:  Gideon v. Wainwright, a case decided by the Supreme Court on March 18, 1963, established the fundamental notion that any person accused of criminal behavior has a right to counsel even if he or she cannot afford counsel.

“The right of one charged with crime to counsel may not be deemed fundamental and essential to fair trials in some countries, but it is in ours. From the very beginning, our state and national constitutions and laws have laid great emphasis on procedural and substantive safeguards designed to assure fair trials before impartial tribunals in which every defendant stands equal before the law. This noble ideal cannot be realized if the poor man charged with crime has to face his accusers without a lawyer to assist him.”

Pretty convincing, right?

Okay, so now that you are as in love with the principles of fairness and justice as I am, now that you are thinking of naming your first child Gideon after a heroic man who stood for justice for himself and ended up ensuring justice for us all (not to mention that whole other Gideon character in the Bible, am I right?), let’s jump to our Five Things.

  1. The Atlantic published a great introductory piece that provides the history of Gideon, the resulting limitations on the right to counsel, and a charge to the American public:  “Either there is a right to counsel or there isn’t. And if there is such a right, we all have an obligation to ensure it is recognized — not just in the history books, and not just in a television movie, and not just in a dusty law book, but in the everyday lives of our fellow citizens.”
  2. Another great piece from The New York Times details how Gideon has been ignored (or worse) across many states, including one woman who sat in jail for eleven months before counsel was appointed to assist her.
  3. “Funding indigent defense isn’t funding criminals. Funding indigent defense isn’t paying incompetent lawyers to do nothing. It’s funding something far more important. It’s funding the protection of the Constitution,” says a blogger using the name “Gideon,” blogging over at A Public Defender.  He attributes the lack of funding and other failures of our justice system to people just not giving a shit about indigent defense.  And he’s funny.
  4. Lawyers have ethical obligations to be prepared, diligent, zealous, and more, but when many public defenders are over-worked and underpaid, does their lack of time lead to under-preparation and less-than-fair representation?  An examination of how different states and parties are responding to this office is over at the National Law Journal.
  5. Finally, a summary of remarks made by Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan at an event honoring the 50th Anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright at the Department of Justice this week, brought to us from The Blog of Legal Times (The BLT).  She indicates that an indigent (poor) client is not entitled to all the bells and whistles of a “Cadillac lawyer,” but certainly is entitled to “a Ford Taurus defense,” an attorney who can appropriately advise and represent the client’s interests.
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