My primary practice area is white collar criminal defense. When I was in law school, criminal law was the furthest thing from my imagination. I didn’t even take criminal procedure, and probably wouldn’t have even taken criminal law had it not been required. All I knew is that I wanted to do litigation, and the only litigation I knew of was civil litigation.
I started out doing exclusively civil litigation for the first six years of my career — four with two different law firms and two with the Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney’s office. It was in the Civil Division where I second-chaired a couple of criminal trials, and the bug bit me. From there, I transferred to the Criminal Division, where I tried many federal criminal cases.
When I eventually went out on my own, I did a combination of civil litigation and criminal defense, but I ultimately gravitated more toward criminal, which is what I primarily practice now.
On the bench, I heard about 75% criminal cases and approximately 25% civil. Although I was one of the relatively few judges who heard both, I simply found the criminal to be more fun and interesting to me. I liked playing with the epistemology of the burdens of proof between civil and criminal, but the evidentiary issues were more interesting on the criminal side.
How has your practice evolved in the last few years?
I left the bench at the end of 2012, and have rebuilt a practice in mostly criminal defense, but some civil litigation, over the past few years. Unlike the bench, where I heard exclusively state cases when I sat on criminal calls, in private practice I defend a variety of state and federal criminal cases.
Since leaving the bench, I have built a national practice in several locations, including Tallahassee, Florida and Charleston, West Virginia.
On the civil side, I have expanded my workload to handle a wider variety of cases ranging from defamation and commercial litigation to personal injury and real estate work.
Over the next few years, I hope to be able to concentrate exclusively in criminal litigation, because I feel I can help people more in that arena than in civil litigation.
If you could offer one piece of advice for young lawyers, what would it be?
Be civil. You can disagree without being disagreeable. You don’t have to compromise zealous representation by being civil. Speaking from both sides of the bench, not only will judges appreciate your civility and frown upon any incivility, but you will get a lot more out of your opponent as well.
You get a lot more with honey than with lemons.
What’s one technological device you could not function without?
My iPhone 6 Plus. It’s my portable office. Because of its big screen, I can do almost everything on it, even dictating this profile on the go. I can research the law on it, write briefs, keep my calendar, take and transmit crime and accident scene photos, use the internet, write a book, and just about anything else I could ever imagine.
How has civility made a difference in your practice of law?
It has made for much more effective advocacy, both on and off the bench.
On the bench, civility between lawyers made their arguments much more understandable, because I often found uncivil behavior to be quite distracting, to say the least. While off the bench, it has led to many friendships and even some client referrals from other lawyers.
A recent example was my negotiation of an employment agreement as part of the settlement of a large commercial case. The lawyer who was primarily responsible for drafting the agreement was very civil. His senior partner was not.
When the civil lawyer and I reached an impasse as to one of the agreement’s terms, he turned the negotiation of that term over to his senior partner. The senior partner shot off a nasty, uncivil email to me. I took exception to it, and called him out for the incivility in his reply, telling him it was not constructive and not helpful in resolving the case. I suspect the uncivil lawyer may have been taken aback by my response, because he backed off on his demands, and we were able to settle the employment agreement and the case soon thereafter.
What do you do for fun?
I play golf and tennis, and occasionally even baseball and football. On the weekends, I often officiate bilingual weddings. (As a retired judge, I get to officiate weddings, one of the happier things I do. I speak pretty fluent Spanish, conversant German, and a decent amount of French, so couples who speak foreign languages, or whose families speak foreign languages, often come to me to officiate.) I am also working on a book about a federal prosecutor who goes to jail for killing an FBI agent.
Judge James Shapiro (ret.), a respected former judge located in Chicago, IL, represents state and federal criminal clients in felony, misdemeanor, and juvenile cases.
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