A Shocking Reminder

By Nicole Kettwick2023-2024 HCBA President

Recent headlines emphasize a growing need for community support and resources among lawyers

I wanted to be a lawyer for as long as I can remember. From a young age, I was surrounded by incredible attorneys, and I found myself in awe of the power they carried to change people’s lives. They were superheroes in my mind. They always seemed to be in control, even when nothing appeared to be going their way, and they could lift the weight of the world off their client’s backs and onto theirs.

What I did not realize until later was how heavy that burden could sometimes be and how important it is for lawyers to have a community to confide in to help carry some of that weight. 

Like many other aspiring lawyers, I was encouraged to read certain classics such as Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  The moment I picked the book up, I was in awe. In my mind, Atticus Finch was the ideal lawyer. He was smart, kind, courageous, and stood up to fight for the underdog even when he was the only one standing. He was everything I wanted to be as a defense lawyer. His lessons have accompanied me throughout my career, and I often crack open the spine of my old copy to be transported to that small-town courthouse in the 1930s. The story always reminds me of the bravery it can take to do the right thing. 

These lessons of “To Kill a Mockingbird” also show us why organizations that provide community support, like bar associations, are so crucial to this profession. A recent news article about a well-known California defense attorney’s suspected murder suicide provides a shocking reminder of the importance of community support and perhaps the devastating consequence of isolation in the legal profession. The article was about the renowned California Criminal Defense Attorney, Lawrence Taylor. He was a United States Marine and served as a public defender and deputy district attorney in the early phase of his career, before entering private criminal defense. He made a big name for himself and formed a great reputation.  He found himself in the spotlight a number of times including when he represented Gregory Powell, the “Onion Field Killer” and when he was a legal advisor to the judge in Charles Manson’s trial in the 1970s. I believe Mr. Taylor embodied the values of Atticus Finch; he was courageous, fair, and always sought to do what was right.

Mr. Taylor also went on to write numerous articles and books about criminal defense including my favorite book of his: A Trial of Generals. This book tells the story of the trials, convictions, and eventual executions of two Japanese generals at the end of World War II who were innocent of the crimes with which they were charged. They had no knowledge of the crimes until they were arrested. The story is also about the courageous young lawyers that fought so hard to defend these innocent Japanese generals. This was another book I read before law school, and I am lucky enough to have an autographed copy of this amazing book by Mr. Taylor. 

Image Caption: Kettwick's autographed copy of A Trial of Generals

Mr. Taylor’s passing was, not surprisingly, picked up by the media. The first article that came out stated that Larry Taylor shot his wife and then himself for no known reason. However, Larry’s son came forward and clarified that there was a very unfortunate reason. Larry’s wife was diagnosed with an advanced stage of Parkinson’s disease and was getting progressively worse.  Larry’s son wrote, “The pain and suffering were too much for her, and my father didn’t want to continue in this world without the wife he loved so much by his side.”

This tragedy serves as a shocking reminder of the need to help those among us in this profession who may be carrying a heavier load than we may know. 

Sometimes the aspirational goal of being a superhero is too much. Our expectations are too high. We need to lean on each other and look out for each other. Perhaps we ought not cast judgement when we read a headline. Perhaps we could lend an ear and show sympathy and/or empathy to others who may be carrying a heavier load than we know. 

One group within our community deserves special mention—Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers. This group has quietly helped countless others. Because many of their services are confidential, their work flies under the radar. I am so proud of and grateful for the work they do as well as the work that bar associations do to support lawyers and lift some of the burdens we take on in this profession and in our lives. 

Thank you all for being a part of the Hennepin County Bar Association and the role you play in our network of support.

Nicole Kettwick is the current president of the Hennepin County Bar Association. She is a criminal defense attorney, serving as a partner at Brandt Kettwick Defense and an adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. She is a member of the Minnesota State Bar Association, Minnesota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the American Bar Association. She also serves as a board member of the local nonprofit, H2O for Life.


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