"60 Minutes" commentator Andy Rooney knew the answer to this (more on that later). It's a question often asked of trial attorneys. The answer is easy, a lawyer who represents a criminal defendant is doing more than simply representing the individual; he or she is actually representing us all. A criminal lawyer defends, the Bill of Rights, and as a result, all of our rights.
The Hon. Edward Bennett Williams, the legendary D.C. criminal lawyer, was often asked this question because he represented some really, really bad guys. His clients included mobsters, Frank Costello, Sam Giancana, and other high profile individuals like Jimmy Hoffa and Senator Joesph McCarthy. In his book, The Man to See, the author writes of the following exchange between Williams and some reporters that took place at dinner during the McCarthy censure hearings.
How could he defend such a terrible man? Williams was tired that night, and a little dour and defensive.... After moodily listening to the badgering, he began, "Well, it's a funny thing. A doctor is driving along the road at night and there's a terrible accident. He rushes over. The driver is bloody. The doctor immediately tries to save his life. Or a priest runs over to administer the last rites. Neither one of them has asked the character of the victim. But when a lawyer rushes in," Williams looked at his accusers, "this is what happens!" The dinner table quieted. The questioning stopped.
Arguably, as the author points out, the logic of those analogies may be questionable. Regardless, it was effective.
Andy Rooney knew Williams well and he answered William's critics with the following: "So why does this nice Catholic boy who graduated from Holy Cross College and loves all-American games* defend these people whose crimes seem indefensible to the rest of us? Well, he has this silly respect for the law. He believes every man has a right to a fair trial and a defense lawyer, just the way the law says he should have."
* Williams was President and part owner of the Washington Redskins as well as the Baltimore Orioles. He has the distinction of winning both the Superbowl and the World Series in the same year.