a lot of people who think of D.C. today as this great cosmopolitan city, but in my early years, D.C. was a formally segregated city. I sometimes refer to my generation as the Brown Babies because we’re the first ones to come up in that time.
And we came up during a period of the Civil Rights Movement. The whole issue of civil rights was something that was kind of infused in us, because everything was going on while we were coming up. From the Montgomery bus boycott, right through the March on Washington, to all the protests in the South, my generation kind of grew up as just children with that. So the whole notion of being involved and protesting segregation or unjust treatment of African Americans is just something that we were part of.
With your activism background what led you into criminal defense?
It was somewhat natural for me in the sense that for criminal defense lawyers, their job is to try to keep the government honest and try to make sure that the system works, to try to make sure defendants have the opportunity to put in a defense. I’ve represented the rich, and I’ve represented the poor; I’ve represented the middle class; I’ve represented big corporations; I’ve represented people that can’t afford lawyers. But what you’re doing, whether you’re representing a big corporation or representing somebody for free, you’re trying to make sure that the system works. Our justice system is predicated on both sides having the ability to put in their case. But when you have a situation where the federal government has all the power and resources, the only way the system works is if you have aggressive, well-educated, and talented defense lawyers to make sure that the playing field is level.
What were some of the challenges that you faced moving up the ladder, and what are some strategies to confront those challenges?
One of the strategies that I’ve always had from the time I started practice was I was determined to be the hardest working lawyer in any situation that I was put in, whether it was within the law firm or whether it was one particular case. And when people see that you’re working hard, they look at you differently. And also there is some correlation between hard work and results, although not necessarily all the time.
At the same time, I’ve never let myself get into a situation where I think the only thing in the world is my case. I think the more important thing is there’s real value in helping the community and trying to be a well-rounded person who recognizes that you owe responsibility, not just to yourself, but to the community at large.
What advice would you give an African American law student who is interested in getting to the top of the top?
I would tell them to work as hard as they can to be the very best lawyer possible — not the best black lawyer, but the best lawyer. And