Houston, TX—While she knew from the time she started in law school that she wanted to be in the courtroom, criminal defense attorney Nicole DeBorde started where many aspiring criminal lawyers do: in the prosecutor's office.
“I worked as a prosecutor for several years, and at some point, I was not feeling as passionate about the work as a prosecutor, so I decided to go into private practice as a criminal defense attorney,” DeBorde told laws.com in a recent interview. “I found that I really was passionate about criminal defense, so that's why I've stuck with it. I enjoy it. I enjoy being in the courtroom and fighting for my clients. Fighting for the underdog was where I knew I needed to be.”
Becoming a criminal defense attorney showed DeBorde a new side to the justice system. “When I got into private practice, I learned that many times, the government does not have the whole story and they are operating only on part of the facts. Sometimes they are all together wrong.”
DeBorde says will only take a case if she feels like she and the client can communicate effectively and she believes she might be able to help. That process begins with a free consultation. “In the free consultation, we have the opportunity to talk about what the accusations are, we discuss what kind of crime they are accused of, what type of involvement they had, how complicated and long it's going to be to mount the proper defense. After all this is discussed, if we find we are compatible and feel comfortable with one another, we move forward. If we are not able to be compatible, then I refer them to someone else.”
Plea deals are not always “deals” according to DeBorde. Lawyers should work with their clients to assess the risks and fully discuss the permanent consequences of accepting a plea. While some defendants feel pressured to plead guilty to lesser charges in order to avoid long prison sentences, DeBorde says that clients who are willing to tolerate the risk should go to trial when wrongly accused: “If the client didn't do what the government is accusing them of doing and they take a plea deal, it will be on their record for the rest of their life. These things aren't like financial problems that go away after a period of time. If they apply for a job, even sign up for the PTA, these things will come up. Many times, you can't afford to take a plea deal.”
DeBorde says that she finds her career in criminal defense deeply rewarding. “Every time you have someone sit down with you with a terrible and hopeless situation, and there is no one who believes them, you become their last hope. They are laying all the facts out for you, and their life, heart and family is on the line, and when you can make the right thing happen, it's an wonderful feeling,” she says. “I have to say that I am very fortunate that it happens to us at our law firm a lot. Whether it is a DWI or a complex fraud case or a murder case, those accusations will not follow a client if we can succeed. Sometimes it is a matter of mitigating a bad situation; sometimes it is a matter of avoiding a conviction all together”
More than most other kinds of law, DeBorde says that criminal defense law is great at inspiring passion in attorneys. “It is something that is really easy to get passionate about and work hard at because you're a defendant's last hope. I like standing up for the guy no one else is willing to stand up for and I like winning for them. It’s a great combination.”