Inside the Life of a Criminal Defense Lawyer with Norman Spencer | Hacker Noon


Norman is the managing attorney at Norman Spencer Law and is a criminal defense lawyer. He has been practicing healthcare law, cybercrime law, international law, and more for 15 years. In this interview, we ask him everything we wanted to know about the real lives of criminal defense lawyers, and his opinion on the current state of the US judicial system.

This Slogging thread by Limarc Ambalina, Mónica Freitas, Norman Spencer, Linh Smooke, David Smooke and Jack Boreham occurred in slogging’s official #amas channel, and has been edited for readability.

Hi Everyone, please welcome another AMA guest we have joining us today: Norman Spencer.

Please feel free to ask him anything about:

  1. Cybercrime
  2. His journey to becoming a criminal defense lawyer

Hi Norman Spencer while HackerNoon is really tech-centric, I must say this is one of the AMAs I’ve been most anticipating. Thanks for joining us!

My first question to break the ice is: is the life of a criminal defense lawyer pretty accurately portrayed in TV and film or does Hollywood make it look more dramatic than it really is? :rolling_on_the_floor_laughing:

Is the life of a criminal defense lawyer pretty accurately portrayed in TV and film or does Hollywood make it look more dramatic than it really is? The real life of a defense lawyer has nothing to do with what TV and and film make it look like, not at all!

Next a more serious question. I worked as a content writer for an AI company for about a year and a half. While the world of AI was emerging, there were so many things I thought couldn’t have been legal, but apparently was. In regards to building AI technologies, do you have insight on the legality of using open source data to build tools for profit?

Is it legal for companies to take publicly available data, use it to train an AI, and sell that AI tool or service for profit?

I think the question here is whether there is any potential EEA violation of theft of trade secrets. EEA is the Economic Espionage Act. One issue is whether disclosure on the Internet, without more, affects the trade secret status.

It depends on the jurisdiction. Some courts ruled that it could, and some ruled that once something is out there, it’s no longer a trade secret. The federal court in the Southern District of New York specifically stated that information might be available on the Internet and still be a trade secret

Hi Norman Spencer. What would you say are the hardest cybercrimes to tackle? How has your journey as a criminal defense lawyer been like?

Good morning. Tackling cybercrime is complicated from the government’s prospective as well as the defense. In my experience, as defense attorney, the more evidence the government can amass, the more difficult the case is, no matter what type of the crime is alleged. It will always involve a large amount of technical evidence, expertise, etc. Theft of trade secrets, for example, is very difficult to defend, because it could be very technical

To answer your other question, my journey has been amazing. It allows me to see all kinds of human conditions and never-repeating scenarios, so it is quite interesting. As defense lawyers, we need to be creative to solve problems

okok – hot take only! i’ve heard that the Kyle Rittenhouse prosecutors are just bad at their job… could you elaborate?? Were they? or did they just not have a strong enough case?

Were prosecutors bad at their job? It’s hard for me to judge because I did not see the evidence they had. From what I’ve seen during the televised portion of the trial, they did what prosecutors would usually do. I don’t think they did a bad job, but the defense did a great job. There are only two types of defenses that work in any criminal case. One is “I didn’t do it” and the others is “I did it, but it was not illegal”. Everything else is dubious and hard to defend. Here, Kyle used the self defense argument, which apparently was enough to convince the jury

Hey Norman!

Great explanation of your approach to the work: “There are only two types of defenses that work in any criminal case. One is “I didn’t do it” and the others is “I did it, but it was not illegal”.

My question is, who is the most badass client you’ve ever represented?

And also do you have any specific examples of what “might be available on the internet AND STILL be a trade secret” ?

David, I’ve represented some illustrious individuals. I guess the most “badass” one was an Italian mob soldier charged with murders. Most of my clients are now white collar defendants, but I would not call them badass.

Trade secrets – the NY case I mentioned was The defendant in United States v. Genovese. The defendant found Microsoft Windows source code on the Internet and attempted to sell it.

He was indicted and moved to dismiss on the ground that he had every reason to believe the code had become publicly available when he found it online. The Court ruled, however, that a trade secret does not lose its protection under the EEA if it is temporarily, accidentally or illicitly released to the public, provided it does not become ‘generally known’ or ‘readily ascertainable through proper means

Thanks! Love how you answer that question.

What was law school like? How long did it take you to get a job? What’s your favorite part about your job and least favorite part for that matter?

Linh, I have many things to say about law school, not are flattering. To simply put it, I believe the law school system is a cash cow for the establishment that runs it. It does little to prepare you for the real life. In fact, I’m involved with a new project that will be called “Real Lawyers Talk”, where this topic will be discussed

After 15 years in the practice, do you feel that the current US judicial system is “broken”? IF so, how is it broken?

If not, I’ll go ahead and say I think it is broken in the sense that a jury of random people with all their own biases of life should not decide the life or death or imprisonment of another. Is it not more just that a jury be made up of the wisest people in a population? But then you’d have to get into the whole discussion of what does it mean to be wise and how yoou would measure such a trait.

No, it’s not broken. I think it’s one the better systems that exist in the world. Obviously, it’s not perfect, and there are things that need to be corrected, but a perfect judicial system is a myth. We don’t realize how good we have it compared to most other countries, even many EU countries

You’re right, it would be better to be ruled and judged by wise rulers and judges. Unfortunately, even Plato did not live at the time of philosopher kings. So, I think, it’s a myth

I think overall, you would have better chances with 12 random people who must vote unanimously to convict you than with a single judge or a panel of professional judges. Judges have biases too

“Compared to most other countries, even many EU countries” – that’s particularly surprising to hear! Could you give an example of an EU country whose judicial system you don’t agree with?

For example, in Italy, citizens don’t have the protections against search and seizure we enjoy here. This goes all the way back to Mussolini. Police can stop you in the middle of the street and check what’s in your pockets or in your bag. Just an example. Their judicial process is seriously slanted against the defendant, when it comes to the rules of evidence, etc. Their prison conditions are so harsh that some US courts ruled that extradition of Italian criminals to Italy could violate the Convention Against Torture

In many countries you don’t have the right to remain silent, to talk to your lawyer, etc. Police interactions with citizens can be much more aggressive than in the US, and I mean investigations, not violent interactions

Norman Spencer it’s great to have you with us. I wanted to ask you a quick question about healthcare law. So in the UK (not sure about the US), the government is making it compulsory to have a vaccine and work in our health service. If you don’t get one, you lose your job. What do you think about this? Does it take away workers rights/freedoms? How does this fit in law? Would this be constitutional in the US?

Jack, this is a complicated question. I can’t talk about the UK and the rest of the world, but here in the US there are mechanisms to check the government on state and federal level. So, practically, an attempt to make vaccination compulsory would not succeed here. So far, the government’s vacination mandate for companies employing more than 100 people has been ruled unconstitutional.

The government does have the interest in and the right to regulate public health, but the question is at which point this crosses the legitimate line and becomes tyranny. I guess we will wait and see how this plays out.

Excited to learn more about all the (unflattering) things you’d have to say on law school. Next – what do you think about all the seemingly increase incidents of ransomware attacks on US soil (but also internationally)? As companies and citizens, what can we learn from a cybercrime expert to better protect ourselves?

Ransomware attacks have been around for a long time and I don’t think they are going away anytime soon. It’s the new type of robbery and robbery is as old as the world. Nothing would offer complete protection, but some common sense would be helpful. Investing in a good cybersecurity system if you have anything to protect, for example.

Thanks to Norman Spencer for all his time today. He is a busy man! So he cannot stick around for a full 48 hours and so we’ll be ending the AMA here.

Thanks to everyone who joined and thanks so much again Norman for your thoughtful answers. I had these questions in my mind for a while and it was great to hear the answers from a seasoned lawyer such as yourself! See you around