Aaron Spolin of Spolin Law: “Treat everyone with respect”

Treat everyone with respect. Treating people with respect goes a long way. No matter what you’re doing, only good things can come from treating with respect everybody you interact with, not only in terms of what you say but also how you say it. The legal field is known to be extremely competitive. Lawyers are often […]

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Treat everyone with respect. Treating people with respect goes a long way. No matter what you’re doing, only good things can come from treating with respect everybody you interact with, not only in terms of what you say but also how you say it.

The legal field is known to be extremely competitive. Lawyers are often smart, ambitious, and highly educated. That being said, what does it take to stand out and become a “Top Lawyer” in your specific field of law? In this interview series called “5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law”, we are talking to top lawyers who share what it takes to excel and stand out in your industry.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Aaron Spolin, Esq.

Aaron Spolin, Esq., is a nationally known criminal appeals attorney. He handles criminal appeals and post-conviction work as part of Spolin Law P.C. Aaron and his firm have won major cases throughout the country, many of which have been covered in regional and national media. His firm focuses on how the criminal justice system routinely violates the rights of criminal defendants, and he has a growing group of now-free former inmates who vouch for the firm’s success. Aaron is also the author of multiple books on criminal law topics, including Witness Misidentification in Criminal Trials (2020) and Winning Federal Writs of Habeas Corpus (forthcoming).

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit more. What is the “backstory” that brought you to this particular career path in law? Did you want to be an attorney “when you grew up”?

Thank you very much. It’s great to be here, and thank you for having me. To give the simple back story: I went to college, majored in public policy, then worked for a business consulting company for a few years before going to law school. And at law school, I knew that I wanted to go into criminal law. It was, to me, the most interesting field of law. I also knew that it was the field of law that had the most action in the courtroom. That’s what motivated my initial entrance into this field, and I don’t regret it for one minute.

Can you tell us a bit about the nature of your practice and what you focus on?

My firm does criminal appeals. Actually, a better way to describe it is post-conviction relief. Post-conviction relief means some type of legal relief for a person after he or she has been convicted of a crime. This primarily means trying to challenge a conviction or reduce a sentence. Usually, there are two reasons why a person’s conviction might be challenged or their sentence reduced. The main reason we hear most commonly in the news, is when a person’s rights have been violated. Everyone has rights under state and federal law, and when law enforcement, the courts, or prosecutors violate these rights, there must be some remedy. Often the remedy will involve giving the defendant a new trial where the rights violations no longer occur. Sentences can be reduced based on rights violations, although in some cases, a person can show good behavior or rehabilitation, and this can lead to a reduction in sentence.

You are a successful attorney. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? What unique qualities do you have that others may not? Can you please share a story or example for each?

First important character trait: commitment to family and work-life balance. This is probably one of the main differences between many other people in the legal field and me. When I am at work, I am full of energy and fight for my clients with all my faculties. The firm, thank goodness, has been very successful in winning cases. But one of the main reasons that I can maintain such a level of energy at work, and one of the reasons behind our success, is that I draw a very clear line between work and home. What I am at home or otherwise with my family, my phone is off, my computer is closed, and I focus on the people around me. My wife is always my priority, as are my children. I get up at 5:00 AM every day and usually get to the office by 6:00 AM, but I have never once let work stop me from having dinner with my family at the end of the day. And ironically, having this work-life balance makes it easier to get high-quality work done. When I’m home, I am home, and when I’m at work, I can be totally “on.”

Do you think you have had luck in your success? Can you explain what you mean?

Absolutely. I have been lucky in the course of my career. One of the main ways I have been fortunate is in finding such incredible people to work with me at the firm. Of course, I look very carefully at resumes, writing samples, references, and all the traditional things you can do to see whether a person will be a good employee at a law firm. But at the end of the day, it is tough to see work ethic, integrity, and creativity in a resume. For example, the firm manager, Dionne Parker, has shown what it means for a person to be leaps and bounds beyond their resume. Of course, she had a stellar resume. She had worked for many years as a lawyer and was even admitted to the United States Supreme Court bar. But the way I have been lucky is in her most important character trait that I could never have seen in her resume: her integrity. She is an incredibly honest person. She is an example of how the firm has been successful in part through luck.

Do you think where you went to school has any bearing on your success? How important is it for a lawyer to go to a top-tier school?

I think it depends on two main variables. The first is how much you want to work for other people versus working for yourself. The second variable is how subjective or objective your work quality is. Somebody who primarily wants to work for other people will find that their caliber of law school is more important, as employers will tend to view the law school caliber as having a relationship with a person’s legal abilities, especially at the beginning of a person’s career. However, the further along a person’s career, the less important a law school’s prestige is. Obviously, working for yourself means that no one is deciding whether you get the job or not, or whether you get promoted. Therefore, law school matters very little when working for yourself. The second issue is whether the quality of your work can be quantified or easily measured. More subjective work quality means it’s harder to stand out for what you’ve done as opposed to who someone else thinks you are. An example of a person who arguably might have a more quantifiable work product might be a personal injury lawyer who can numerically add up the amount of money won throughout any given period of time.

Based on the lessons you have learned from your experience, if you could go back in time and speak to your twenty-year-old self, what would you say? Would you do anything differently?

I would say that upper-middle-class American society places a great deal of emphasis on prestige, but this does not actually help you have a better and more enjoyable, fulfilling life. How prestigious was your school, what company do you work at, what is your position, etc.; this does not really impact your quality of life the way you might think. Instead, personal relationships with others and meaning in what you do — that is what matters.

This is not easy work. What is your primary motivation and drive behind the work that you do?

I am motivated by the idea that every person deserves to be treated with respect. Every person has basic human dignity. In the criminal justice process, my clients have traditionally not been treated with respect. Prosecutors, judges, guards, and many others treat criminal defendants like dirt. The “innocence until proven guilty” presumption does not seem to play out in practice. I’m motivated by the idea that I can make sure that, at the very least, my clients are treated with respect. Of course, that means that I need to treat them with respect in how I interact with them. But it also means that I will fight for them in court when their rights have been trampled upon and they have not been treated with the basic dignity that our Constitution guarantees. This is what motivates my work to a great extent.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

We are writing some proposed legislation that would help make the criminal justice system fairer and more equitable. This is exciting for me and my team.

Where do you go from here? Where do you aim to be in the next chapter of your career?

The next chapter is doing the same thing that the firm has been doing but doing it better. We have won cases, and of course, we’ve lost cases. I hope the next chapter has an even higher win rate while also carrying out our core goal of treating all clients with respect.

Without sharing anything confidential, can you please share your most successful “war story”? Can you share the funniest?

I had a client who was riding in a car with some friends and all of a sudden, he was charged with murder because of what someone else did. It was actually a very painful experience for this client to be in custody for a long time, but when we won his case he traveled around the country visiting family and friends, reconnecting, and I remember being so touched when I thought of how those reunions must have gone. Thankfully we’ve had quite a few cases like this, but still it’s not enough until every innocent or over-charged client gets the justice they deserve.

Ok, fantastic. Let’s now shift to discussing some advice for aspiring lawyers. Do you work remotely? Onsite? Or Hybrid? What do you think will be the future of how law offices operate? What do you prefer? Can you please explain what you mean?

We have a hybrid model. Many jobs can be done from any location, especially in criminal appeals where it’s all about writing, reading, and thinking about cases. But of course, we need physical offices because some tasks must be performed in-person, with the most obvious example being the receipt of physical mail. I personally work from the office each day (as I do not like working from home), but a significant portion of the office works remotely, especially those who never need to interact with clients.

How has the legal world changed since COVID? How do you think it might change in the near future? Can you explain what you mean?

I believe that courts and judges are finally seeinexpertiseue of remote appearances over video chat or even phone. Of course, there are many occurrences in court that require in-person appearances and will always require this, like a jury trial on a major case. However, continuances (where a postponement is requested) and other minor court appearances really don’t need an attorney’s in-person presence. Courts never allowed remote appearances, but now that COVID required it, I think the judges themselves are seeing the value in terms of efficiency and convenience.

We often hear about the importance of networking and getting referrals. Is this still true today? Has the nature of networking changed or has its importance changed? Can you explain what you mean?

I do not like networking, and I’ve always considered it very boring. I probably could have been more successful if I enjoyed and pursued networking opportunities, but I like to think that people will be successful in their law practices if they do great work and develop a reputation for achieving successful results.

Based on your experience, how can attorneys effectively leverage social media to build their practice?

Social media is a helpful tool for communicating and raising awareness with people who might not read traditional news sources.

Excellent. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law?” Please share a story or an example for each.

1. Develop Expertise. To be a top lawyer, you truly have to know your field backwards and forwards. In my opinion, the best first step in developing expertise is to read the leading treatises on the topic cover to cover. When I started my career as a prosecutor, I would start my day with an hour of reading every morning, regardless of how busy I was.

2. Maintain work-life balance. As I mentioned before, you need to find a balance between your work and everything else in your life. Lawyers who don’t do this get burned out very quickly.

3. Get Results! Potential clients will judge you based on what you’ve been able to achieve in other cases. Obviously, prior success on one case does not guarantee a similar outcome on a future case; I always say this! But if you want to be successful and considered a top lawyer, you’ve just got to have the results to prove it.

4. Focus on mental health. Take care of yourself. Work-life balance, which I referred to earlier, is part of this equation. But another part of the equation is making sure to focus on the things that you need to do to fight the depression and anxiety that nearly all lawyers experience at some point in their careers, if not throughout their entire careers. For me, vigorous daily exercise, healthy eating, and a focus on my family help me have the energy and mental tranquility needed to get my job done.

5. Treat everyone with respect. Treating people with respect goes a long way. No matter what you’re doing, only good things can come from treating with respect everybody you interact with, not only in terms of what you say but also how you say it.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

I wonder if this great businessman will come across this article: Joel Spolin. My father has always been a great role model for me, and — even though we just had lunch last week — I can’t think of any “big name” in business/sports/entertainment/etc. with whom I’d rather have a meal.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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