VOL. 124 | NO. 49 | Thursday, March 12, 2009
Leffler Believes in Work As Defense Attorney
By Rebekah Hearn
Position: Principal Attorney
Firm: Stephen R. Leffler PC
Basics: Leffler practices in personal injury, wrongful death, car accidents, DUI cases and defense of felonies and misdemeanors and federal and state crimes.
“I tell my clients all the time, there’s gambling that goes on down in Tunica, Miss., but the real gambling goes on at 140 Adams Ave. and 201 Poplar Ave., where you turn these cases over to juries, and all bets are off.”
– Stephen Leffler
Stephen Leffler, principal attorney of Stephen R. Leffler PC, practices in personal injury, wrongful death, car accidents, DUI cases and defense of felonies and misdemeanors and federal and state crimes. He received his juris doctorate degree from then-Memphis State University in 1984 and was admitted to the bar in Tennessee that same year.
Leffler is a member of the Memphis and Tennessee Bar Associations, the Tennessee Association for Justice (formerly the Tennessee Trial Lawyers’ Association), the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Million Dollar Advocates’ Forum.
He is a sole practitioner who works with the help of a two-person staff.
Q: Looking back at your cases, you’ve handled everything from food stamp fraud to inmate civil rights to banking disputes. How do you educate yourself on the different topics that come before you?
A: Well, ultimately, the best information comes from other lawyers. That’s why I think the bar association and attorney networking is so important, because you can read all day long on what the law says on some subject, and not have a clue how to approach it from a practical standpoint. So I think that phone calls to other lawyers are essential to being able to properly prepare for a case, especially in an area you’re not already familiar with, and sometimes even in areas you’re familiar with, it’s extremely helpful. I try to keep an open phone line myself, because I’ve got people calling me asking me questions, and I like to be able to be helpful to them, knowing that at some point in time, they’re going to know something I don’t know.
Q: What is the most difficult aspect of being a defense attorney?
A: Probably the toughest part is trying to explain to people what you do, because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve entertained the question, “How do you represent somebody when you know they are guilty?” To take the time to be able to explain to them and tell them that what I do is an important thing to be able to do, in a non-offensive way. That seems to be the most difficult part of what I do, just based upon my areas of expertise. The rules of ethics are very helpful in guiding you through a lot of that. If somebody tells me they did something, I can represent them. There are certain bounds I can’t go outside of and I won’t go outside of, but as long as I stay within those bounds, I’m very comfortable with what I do, and I let people know that when I talk to them.
Q: What has been one of the more significant cases you’ve handled?
A: I guess different people have different definitions for significant, and for me, the most significant case I ever tried got very little coverage, and it was about some pro-life, anti-abortion protestors who chained themselves to the fence over at an abortion clinic and were arrested for criminal trespass, and they were facing an uphill battle. But I feel very strongly about that particular issue myself, and my whole thought process is that it’s better to take on (a case) that you believe in than it is one that you don’t really believe that much in. I don’t look at significant in terms of money. I’ve had some big hits in terms of money; but those aren’t the ones I really went to law school for. Those are the ones that pay the bills and keep my kids in school, that sort of thing, but the really significant ones I look at are the ones that I really feel strongly about.
Q: You have taken on a lot of well-known defendants, such as The ServiceMaster Co., Allstate Insurance Co. and the city of Memphis. How do you prepare for such cases?
A: (Just because it’s a corporation) doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to take a scorched-earth approach to their litigation strategy. I have a really good relationship with a lot of the lawyers in town and we work really well together. But what I really like about that … is that somebody I represent can get a day in court, with my help, against overwhelming odds, and actually can prevail. And in our system, people who don’t have any money can have their day in court, and their lawyer can get paid for it, and there are very few systems like that. So I never really feel overwhelmed by it. I feel irritated sometimes if it’s a lawyer who does take that scorched-earth approach to litigation.
Q: In cases such as Gregory v. Shelby County, which was a case in which an inmate killed another inmate, how do you make a reasonable argument in front of a jury who already might be prejudiced against the defendant for being in jail in the first place?
A: Yeah, that is probably the biggest obstacle that any trial lawyer has, and a lot of times I don’t take it on, and if I don’t take it on, it’s because I can’t think of a common thread, a thread that would connect the jurors – something that everybody’s got in common, like it’s not good to steal from people, or it’s not good to hurt people and walk away unscathed. If your case has some element of that, where you can frame it in terms of something that everybody can agree on, then you’ve got at least a chance of being able to pull that off. But I tell my clients all the time, there’s gambling that goes on down in Tunica, Miss., but the real gambling goes on at 140 Adams Ave. and 201 Poplar Ave., where you turn these cases over to juries, and all bets are off. Nobody has any clue what’s going to happen; it’s an educated guess that you make from a lawyer’s standpoint on whether you take the case or not.