[Editor’s Note: Dennis Sullivan is almost as dedicated to North Carolina as he is to defending accused persons and righting civil wrongs. He was born and educated there, straight through law school. He is founding president of The New Hanover Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and head of The Sullivan Law Firm since 2001.]
Why I Do What I Do
A few months ago one of my sons came in and said, “Dad, how can you represent criminals and people you know that are guilty?” I have probably answered that question a hundred times since I started practicing law over 20 years ago. It is the most common thing I am asked when someone finds out what I do. The standard answer is, “First, I never ask a client if they are guilty and second, I don’t care if they are guilty. Everyone is entitled to a defense under our Constitution. That is what I do, I protect the Constitution.”
That response didn’t seem sufficient for a 12-year-old. It got me started thinking about what I do. I came up with this. His question is flawed to begin with. Very few of my clients are true criminals. I represent normal people, most of whom are at a low point in their life. Either they have made a mistake, or they have been seriously injured by someone else’s negligence. In the criminal defense part of my practice, there are quite often substance abuse issues that are the underlying problem. They are scared and thrust into a system about which they know very little. They rely upon my knowledge and advice to put them in the best position possible to get through this tough time.
I am an attorney and COUNSELOR at law. I try to improve the lives of my clients by giving them the help that they need both in and out of the courthouse. I recently ran into a former client that I represented on two DWI’s a few years ago. When he got the second one in three weeks, I got him in to the office to talk about his options. We ended up sending him to an in-patient treatment program for substance abuse. He has been entirely sober ever since. It is the success stories like his that are the reason I do what I do. Yes, I protect the Constitution, but more importantly I get to help people when they need it the most.
Good people who are at a bad point in their lives. Son, those are my clients.