Like show business, it can take years for lawyers to get cases that make them an overnight success, and they can lose all of it in a single gaff. Prosecutors may have it easier in this regard. Just take a look at the incarceration rate in the United States as compared to other countries and you’ll see why: criminal law is no shrinking violet. Prosecutors have lots of cases to choose from, so the likelihood that a big fish comes swimming their way is fairly high. They don’t have to compete for cases like defense attorneys; cases come to them. However, experience plays the biggest role in assigning cases to this or that prosecutor. Starting prosecutors can be expected to handle small issues, like traffic violations and misdemeanors. They have to work their way up to the juicier Seven Deadly Sins, which may carry the death penalty. In this sense, fame for prosecutors can be considered a factor of the heinousness of the crime, the gravity of possible punishment, and the celebrity of the defendant.
Defense attorneys’ fame comes from being the underdogs. They always play long odds because they don’t have nearly as many resources as the government, and the rules of criminal procedure generally favor the state. But those odds are all the result of defense attorneys needing only to establish a little bit of uncertainty–reasonable doubt–in a case to get their clients off the hook. For that reason, defense attorneys are pejoratively known as “agents of chaos.” Consequently, defense attorneys must be more creative, resourceful, and attentive to detail than prosecutors if they want to win cases, spread their name as the next Atticus Finch, and get higher profile defendants.
No matter what criminal justice lawyer you are, though, or any lawyer for that matter, there are three rules key to any fame: reputation, reputation, reputation. On an average day, sometimes the sign of a good job is when a judge forgets about you by the time he or she goes home for dinner. It’s those lawyers who try to pull one over the judge’s head that the judge–as well as your fellow lawyers–will remember. Fame’s no substitute for a lawyer’s good name.