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Lawyers who defend terror suspects have thankless task. Why do they do it?

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Ms. Conrad, too, has some experience with terrorism suspects. She helped defend Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber, who is serving a life sentence for the 2001 attempt to blow up a plane using explosives in his sneakers. And last fall she defended Rezwan Ferdaus, who received a 17-year sentence for plotting to blow up the Pentagon using remote-controlled model planes.

Most people might consider defending a terrorism suspect a thankless task, but those who have done it often thrive on the endeavor.

“There is a certain personality that is drawn to this work,” says Tamar Birckhead, a former federal public defender in Boston who worked with Conrad and is now an associate professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law in Chapel Hill. “This is more than an intellectual exercise ensuring constitutional rights are protected. I get great satisfaction out of being the voice for that person.”

The work, it seems, requires a certain kind of lawyer.

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