She was fascinated by crime and criminals. Why do people commit crimes? What kinds of people commit these crimes? Is it nurture or nature? Divera Rupert was around 14 years old when she decided to be a defense attorney and find the answers. An eye-opening article about the journey of a shy girl who now owns her own law company in Holland. She was threatened many times, she wasn’t taken seriously, but she didn’t let fears run her life. She became the attorney she wanted to be.
Article by Divera Rupert
I was a young girl when I realized my ultimate dream: I wanted to be a defense attorney. I read a lot of detective stories and watched crime series. Understanding the motivation behind crimes and the people who commit them became the motive of my life.
It was pretty obvious I had to study law at university and get my masters degree in criminal law. I also studied criminology which is the study of deviant behavior and crime. It is a branch of sociology that involves research and analysis of who commits crimes, why they commit them in certain situations, their impact, and how to prevent them.
During my studies I worked as a secretary at a law firm for a defense attorney. Then I was a trainee defense attorney for 3 years. It was a challenging time because I worked full-time while I took specialization at university and I was preparing for my bar exam but it was also engrossing. I worked on lots of cases and I saw a lot of defense lawyers in court pleading for their clients. The judges inspired me a lot. I learned the taught legal writing and perceived the Do’s and Don’ts of a defense lawyer in court.
My patron always told me that as a criminal defense attorney you need to develop a thick skin, an ability to keep from getting upset or offended by the things other people say and do. As an attorney you will always be criticized. If you win the case your client is pleased. But the victims and their families are disappointed.
Once I was intimidated by the family of a victim. They were yelling and screaming and called me: advocate of the Devil! I was afraid to leave the court room alone. My colleague came to pick me up. And this was not the only time. The friends of another suspect in the same criminal case surrounded me outside the court room and threatened me, saying that my client had to make a positive statement about their friend.
Many times people ask me: Could you defend a child molester or a child murderer? Or don’t you hope this suspect will be convicted? For me it is hard to defend a suspect who committed a serious crime without any regret or explanation as if the victim were to blame. Clients like these also tend to yell and scream and blame me. Yes, then it’s time for me to say that I can’t defend the client anymore, for them to find another defense attorney.
To defend someone in front of others knowing that you won’t be liked by many people is a big test. I still remember my first court session and the judge. The judge had a nickname; The butcher of the court of Amsterdam. I got slaughtered. I was so nervous. I am a rather shy person. And speaking in public was always very difficult for me. I don’t like being the center of attention. But I always confront my fears. So I learned by trial and error to speak up. I found out that everyone can learn to speak in public. Just do it. Good preparation prevents poor presentation. If I can do it, you can do it.
As a young attractive woman with blonde curly hair I felt I was not taken seriously as a professional in the beginning. So I started to wear nerdy glasses, I put my hair in a knot and I dressed modestly like a real business woman. That really worked! As a female defense attorney you need to be more stern and show them you are in control. I defend a lot of male prisoners. They don’t see a lot of women during their incarceration. So you can imagine what they think when a lady comes to visit them.
When I started my career it was hard to refuse any client. I did almost anything to help my clients. For example, I helped them with their taxes or administration. I wanted them to stay on as my client. The competition between defense attorneys in Amsterdam is huge.
After six years I started my own law firm. Becoming an entrepreneur meant lots of organizing, administration, more responsibility and more work in acquisition. At the same time, I’ve got more freedom to choose my cases and the clients I want to defend. I was free to work whenever I wanted to. It took a lot of time and effort to make my company work but luckily all the hard work has paid off.
Now I defend adults and minors in all kinds of national and international criminal cases. A lot of these criminal cases are drug related. I defend drug smugglers and drug dealers and the addicts who commit crimes for their drugs. A lot of my clients commit crimes due to financial problems. That’s why I defend them ‘pro bono’ – that means the government pays for the cost of a lawyer when a client does not have sufficient income. Besides these cases, I defend clients suspected of white collar crime who are billed by the hour.
I also deal with international crimes where I defend people who are going to be extradited to other countries in the European Union or overseas, like to the USA. It is very important to be in contact with lawyers all around the world. Every country has its own legal system. I cannot defend my client in another country as I don’t know the rules and laws or the import precedents.
That is something that I can always work on. Whenever I am on holiday in another country I tend to visit court sessions to observe the similarities and differences between legal systems all around the world. For example, in the Netherlands, we don’t have a jury system like the US. For simple cases we have one judge. In more complex cases we have three specialized judges.
Being a defense attorney is hard work. You need to be passionate about your work to stay motivated. It is intensive and as a lawyer you have to make important decisions. For example, do I want to interrogate a witness or not? A lot of witnesses have selective memory. If the witness states that my client is guilty that can be used as evidence. And I don’t need more evidence against my client.
I find it really important that my client trusts me. I compare it to a doctor or a psychiatrist or a hairdresser. His or her life is in my hands.
I love my job but it comes with a lot of stress. Never a dull moment! It is not a 9 to 5 job, but a 24/7 job. I travel around the country to go to court or to visit a client in prison. I meet a lot of different people. I like helping and defending my clients. It gives me satisfaction and inspires me to really make a difference. It was always my goal to defend the underdog against the police and prosecution. I believe a good law system can be measured by the way the authorities treat convicts and weak or sick people. I think everyone is capable of committing a crime. Think of ‘crime passionel’ – the French word for a crime of passion. This is a sexually motivated crime; more specifically the murder of a spouse, lover, etc., motivated by jealousy. Sometimes it’s hard to act as a rational, thinking person. Or when people drink too much, they may end up in a fight or other altercation. When you are arrested, you are very glad there is someone to defend you, no matter what you did.
There are many reasons why people commit crimes. Psychological and sociological reasons, the influence of peers as well as their environment. Sometimes it’s hard to understand the reasons why, even for the suspect themselves. If there is a lot of evidence my job is damage control.
I am proud that I achieved my dream to be a defense attorney and a substitute judge. I could never have imagined this when I was a teenager. So all I can say is whatever your goal may be, just follow your dream, stay focused, be confident! You can do it!