Indianapolis, IN—After 21 years working in criminal law, Frederick Vaiana knows that defense lawyers are facing an uphill battle every time they enter a courtroom.
“I think any good criminal defense attorney spends the bulk of his efforts just trying to get a level playing field,” Vaiana told laws.com in a recent interview. “All we want is a fair fight—if we lose, we lose. The odds are stacked against us for the most part, anyway. We just want a level playing field.”
Named as a Super Lawyer in Indiana since 2007 and one of the Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Indiana by National Trial Lawyers, Vaiana has become one of the most acclaimed attorneys in the state. He says it doesn't come easy: “Being a good lawyer includes wisdom both in and out of the courtroom. It includes being a good businessperson. Most of all, it includes being the best thing your client has in their life. Follow the age-old formula: the more effort you put into your law practice, the more success you get out of it.”
While Vaiana says that he'll take cases for people accused of nearly anything, he says that he does have some limits. “One time in my career, I actually asked someone to leave my office after interviewing him,” he recalls. “After he expressed no remorse for raping a two-year-old child, and actually couldn't see the wrong in doing so, I felt that I couldn't give it my all in defending him. He deserved a lawyer that would give him their best effort—I simply wasn't that lawyer.”
Today's criminal defense attorneys face challenges that aren't just inside the courtroom—the economic environment can be tough for them, too. “Public defenders, at least in my local area, are appointed to somewhere between 80 percent and 90 percent of the entire criminal docket,” Vaiana explains. “So if 80 to 90 percent of all criminal defendants are receiving public defenders, that only leaves 10 to 20 percent of the defendants for the private bar.”
From there, the situation gets even harder for defense lawyers, he says: “Out of that small slice of the pie, you have the competitive nature of the marketplace of private lawyers themselves. With such a small slice of the pie to wrangle over, pricing becomes an issue for many individuals. Some of the better quality lawyers are forced to lower their fees simply to compete with those undercutting the market. In short, it's becoming a tougher and tougher way to make a living—especially to defend a case the way that it needs to be defended.”
In this environment, Vaiana believes some attorneys take too many plea deals instead of doing more work to take a case to trial: “Some lawyers call themselves trial attorneys, but many of them have not tried a case for years, if ever. Be they too scared or intimidated by the other side, or just plain lazy or incompetent, many lawyers take the easy way out, many times to the detriment of their clients.” He strongly believes that if defense attorneys put in enough effort and preparation into trying cases, success is attainable.
In a contentious courtroom, Vaiana says that the relationships he has worked to build with judges and prosecutors have made a positive difference for his clients. “When there are no silly games being played between the parties, things can get accomplished in a palatable fashion for all. Everybody—judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and clients—needs to take a very real and pragmatic approach to what is before them. Life is hard enough. It seems like most lawyers spend half their time and energy just posturing, and that wastes our greatest resource: time.”
He is a respected author and commentator, regularly co-authoring articles for Indiana Lawyer magazine and serving as a guest on WTLC and WFNI radio stations. He also contributed as a co-author for Inside the Minds: Strategies for Defending Sex Crimes.
His hard work and success has not been unnoticed, several publications including Indianapolis Monthly and Law and Politics Magazine have recognized him as one of the best attorneys of the state of Indiana.
In addition, he’s held memberships in The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the National College for DUI Defense, and the criminal justice section of the Indianapolis Bar Association.
Today, Vaiana is part of the prestigious Indianapolis law firm Voyles Zahn & Paul, founded in 1919. Vaiana’s role at Voyles Zahn & Paul focuses on criminal defense, taking on cases from traffic law to major felony cases.