The Florida Bar

Florida Bar Journal

Bow Wow Needs A “Real” Lawyer: A Public Defender’s Life

by Jeffrey A. Ward Book Reviews

Bow wow bookRecently, the Chicago Tribune quoted Tennessee law professor Benjamin Barton as stating, “only 44[%] of Big Law lawyers report satisfaction with their career, while 68[%] of public sector lawyers do.” Job satisfaction has long been discussed within the legal profession, with the ABA regularly reporting on lawyer happiness.

Attorney contentedness will continue to be a hot topic as the profession deals with mental-health issues, today’s pandemic challenges, a future post-pandemic world, technological changes, worldwide competition, and the pressures of raising families in a divided society full of prejudices.

Jeff Ward’s book, however, tells a story of contentment in a legal career and of how a lawyer can be satisfied when doing what is his or her passion. As a career public defender, Ward found professional joy.

Ward’s war stories are many, and they are all enjoyable — to even the most jaundiced legal practitioner who is tired of hearing colleagues ramble. The joy that comes from one’s dream job is apparent, and Ward shares it in clever stories that range from chilling murders to routine probation hearings. Each story has a meaning and purpose that benefit the reader and provoke reflection about how law is to be practiced and how life is to be lived. Some are more comical and some are serious, but all fit into a compelling life story.

I was in Ward’s law school class when he arrived in Tallahassee in 1973. Like him, I anticipated a criminal defense career after devotedly reading F. Lee Bailey’s 1971 classic, The Defense Never Rests, and the 1974 best seller, Helter Skelter: The True Story of The Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi, who prosecuted the 1970 trial against Charles Manson. Those books were written by men with large egos and little warmth who desired to shock and awe readers with dark and gruesome tails of the Boston Strangler and the butchery of a Hollywood starlet and her entourage.

Ward, however, while having serious reverence for his clients’ Sixth Amendment rights, uses a humorous and irreverent tone in showing his warm and human side, even in tough cases involving the darker side of the human condition. For example, Ward empathizes with the victims in cases in which he defended the person charged with perpetrating the crime. And he demonstrates respect for the legal system that often seems slanted against his clients by praising judges who, not only ruled against him and were philosophical opponents, found him repeatedly in contempt. Indeed, friendships evolved and humorous events arose from tense courtroom experiences. Ward expresses appreciation for all who have roles in our justice system including the police, prosecutors, judges, courthouse personnel and, of course, defendants and his defense bar colleagues.

Importantly, the balancing value of family and friends shines throughout the book. Ward shows us how the support of friends and family reduces stress and provides even more satisfaction and joy. Ward tells his story of a dream legal career living out his passion to defend those accused of crime with their support. Who can ask for more than that?

Lonnie N. Groot practices in Daytona Beach Shores.