Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Lessons My Father Taught Me

Practicing law is not an easy profession to pursue. Imagine if a large part of that career included criminal defense. What you do can dramatically affect the lives of your clients. Add to that the disapproval of some for defending “criminals.”

I can’t count the number of times I’ve asked why do I do it, defend criminals, that is. My answer is the United States Constitution–due process. My father explained to me at an early age that the Constitution was the foundation of our democracy: everyone was entitled to a fair trial, to be judged by a jury of their peers. He explained that’s what makes us different from the Soviet Union, communist China and other dictatorships. He believed in the value and dignity of every human life.

My father was an honorable man, whose word was his bond. My father believed that the practice of law was a privilege, that should not be tainted with dishonesty, incompetence, laziness or greed. He instilled in me a love for the law, the Constitution and a strong allegiance to my country and its system of government. He also taught me that a strong work ethic, compassion for others and returning phone calls were necessary, no matter what you did for a living.

He used to tell me, if you’re thoroughly prepared for trial, you can recite the facts of your case by heart, you know the weaknesses and strengths of your case and you’re ready to go to trial immediately, but instead, go back and prepare some more! Prepare until you’re too exhausted to go on and then start all over again the next day.

Lastly, he told me a good lawyer is always a little nervous before she enters the courtroom. It shows you care about your case and your client.

Belinda Stevens is a criminal defense attorney who practices in Yazoo City. She is the daughter of the late John Sharp Holmes, a successful trial lawyer who only lost three cases in his legal career. Holmes' father was on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Stevens' grandfather, John Sharp Williams, was a United States Senator and was good friends with Woodrow Wilson. Her love of history comes honestly, and can be seen in her novel, "Just Out of Reach," which is set in Mississippi in the turbulent 1960's. Stevens has also written a fun parody, "50 Shades of Fur," a bawdy tale featuring canine characters. Both books can be found on Amazon.com.