The question of how it feels to do the work we do receives little attention in mainstream legal literature. We tend to treat the very acknowledgement of our work’s emotional aspects as downright unlawyerlike — a challenge to law’s rational and rigorous essence. Yet as this book beautifully illustrates, the question of how it feels to do our work cannot be cordoned off from the issues at the center of the teaching and practice of law: what it means to be an ethical, zealous, effective counselor and advocate with a satisfying, sustainable legal career.
Susannah Sheffer sheds light on all these issues, though she sets out to answer a narrower question: what it is like to be a capital defense lawyer specializing in post-conviction challenges. What is it like for these lawyers, she asks, not in the courtroom or the offices of the capital habeas unit, but “in the middle of the night, in the pit of the stomach, in their last visits or phone calls with clients who are about to be taken to the execution chamber, in the mornings after, in their lives with their families, in their dreams and flashbacks and quiet moments alone?” What is it like to do this work in the face of incomprehension and even hostility from the larger community? What motivates such lawyers and how do they keep doing what they do? Sheffer explores these issues in conversations with twenty capital defense lawyers in this insightful and deeply affecting book.
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