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

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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.

Those who defend people such as Mr. Tsarnaev try to forge a kind of bond with their clients so they will trust them with their lives. The attorney almost has to forget the accusations against the client, instead trying to identify the individual's redeeming qualities. The defense lawyer, outmanned and outspent by government prosecutors, must also enjoy being the underdog. And he or she may not see much of their own family for weeks or even months.

When he was helping to defend 1995 Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, defense lawyer Chris Tritico recalls that he saw his wife, son, and two daughters for exactly three days over a six-month period.

“It was a big sacrifice but one that my wife and I were willing to make,” says Mr. Tritico of the Houston law firm Tritico & Rainey.

Why?

Tritico, a private lawyer who became McVeigh’s trial lawyer, says his motivation is to give individuals the legal representation guaranteed under the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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