Every so often, I like to post a profile of a lawyer who’s just opened a solo practice. This month, it’s Jamison Koehler of Koehler Law. Jamie is a criminal and DUI defense lawyer in Washington D.C. and here’s what he had to share about his background, his reasons for going solo and how he intends to serve clients.
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1. When did you open your new law firm, and what areas does of law does your practice area focus on?
I opened my firm officially on the day I was sworn into the D.C. bar: November 6, 2009. Koehler Law will do 100% criminal law.
2. Where did you work before starting your practice?
Prior to moving to the D.C. area in June 2009, I worked as a public defender at the Defender Association of Philadelphia. While there, I represented criminal defendants during felony and misdemeanor trials (adult and juvenile), preliminary hearings, sentencing and post-sentencing hearings, and violations of probation or parole.
3. Why did you decide to start your own firm?
I have reached a point in my life during which I want to work for myself. I want to pick my own clients and manage my own affairs. I want to be involved during every phase of a criminal case from beginning to end. I am also inspired by my wife Susan L. Burke, who opened her own firm, Burke O’Neil, three or four years ago and now has a thriving practice mixing corporate defense with plaintiff-side work. (See Burke ONeil for information on her work representing the victims of the Abu Ghraib torture, the Blackwater shootings, and the burnpits in Afghanistan.)
4. What aspects of criminal defense are most challenging?
Being charged with a criminal offense – and facing the tremendous power of the state’s resources arrayed against you – can be overwhelming for many people. Many clients are afraid, angry and/or confused. Some suffer from mental health, addiction, or other issues. It is sometimes a challenge to get through the anger and confusion to focus on what needs to be done for the client’s defense.
5. What is most rewarding?
There is nothing better than that moment of stunned silence after a verdict of not guilty has been announced and the look of realization comes over the client’s face: You mean this case is finally over? I also treasure the relationship you develop with clients and their families as you work through this very difficult period in their lives.
6. The public hears many horror stories about criminal attorneys failing to investigate cases, pressuring clients into accepting plea bargains or promising unrealistic outcomes. Do you believe there is any truth to these accounts?
While these things occasionally happen, I would hope they are far more often the exception rather than the rule. Any lawyer worthy of his or her license to practice law will exhaust every possibility to uncover facts or details that could help the case. While plea bargains are sometimes in the client’s best interest, the client needs to be educated on the options facing him or her so that he or she can make the right decision. And no lawyer should make promises he or she cannot deliver just to bring in a potential client or to avoid having a difficult conversation with an existing client.
7. And more importantly, what should prospective clients look for when hiring a criminal law attorney so as to avoid the bad apples?
A good lawyer is someone who will listen to you, investigate the facts, and then look you in the eye and tell it to you straight. You should be wary of any lawyer who promises victory. There are often unforeseen complications. There is rarely a slam-dunk defense.
8. I see that you have decided to blog about criminal law in DC. Tell me a little about your blog and the topics that you intend to cover.
I would like my website and blog to serve as the very reference tool I felt I needed when I first moved to D.C. Each is targeted at a different group of people. The website is aimed more toward a person who has either been charged with a crime him- or herself or knows someone who has been charged. A person in this situation wants to know: What are the elements the prosecution would need to prove at trial? What are potential defense strategies? What kind of penalties will I face if I am convicted?
The blog is targeted primarily at other practitioners. I plan to cover the intersection of criminal law with such topical/popular issues as the Letterman extortion affair. I will discuss the implications of recent Supreme Court cases, such as Arizona v. Gant, on the practice of criminal law in D.C. And, because I enjoy reading about these experiences myself, I may ruminate occasionally on the challenges of being a solo criminal defense lawyer in the District.
9. What else would you like your colleagues or prospective clients to know about you and your firm?
I love practicing law. There are few things I enjoy more than reading a well-reasoned case, even if I don’t agree with where it comes out. A good case can be as exciting to read as any novel. I still get a tremendous feeling of excitement every time I stand at the bar and introduce myself to the court. And I love delving into the details of a case, looking for the facts that will break the case. I hope this enthusiasm translates into good results for my clients.