On this week’s Wealthy Woman Lawyer® Podcast, we speak with Elizabeth Franklin-Best, Founder of Elizabeth Franklin-Best P.C. in Columbia, South Carolina. A former career public defender and death penalty defense attorney, Elizabeth focuses her private practice on federal criminal defense; state and federal direct appeals; federal post-conviction; and habeas proceedings. Elizabeth’s goal has been to create a new kind of law firm–one that aspires to provide the highest forms of advocacy and professionalism for all clients.
We chat with Elizabeth about her career as a woman in the criminal defense and appeals space, as well as:
- How her core values inform her work
- The need for gender diversity in criminal defense and appellate work
- Advice for women entering the criminal defense space
- What keeps her going in tough cases
- And more.
Mentioned in this episode:
- Elizabeth’s Website
- Elizabeth’s Twitter
- Elizabeth’s Facebook
- Elizabeth’s Linkedin
- Elizabeth’s Number: 803-331-3421
Davina Frederick: Hello and welcome to the Wealthy Woman Lawyer Podcast. We believe all women lawyers deserve to be wealthy women lawyers. Our mission is to provide thought provoking, powerful and practical information to help you in creating your own sustainable wealth generating law firm without overwork or overwhelm so you can live your best life. I’m your host, Davina Frederick, and I’m so excited for you to meet our guest today. So let’s get started.
Former career public defender and death penalty attorney Elizabeth Franklin-Best is the founder of the Columbia South Carolina boutique law firm Elizabeth Franklin-Best P.C., which focuses almost exclusively on criminal federal defense, state and federal direct appeals, federal post conviction and habeas proceedings. Elizabeth hung out her own shingle in July 2019, because she wanted to create a new kind of law firm, one that embodies the highest level of professionalism and aggressive advocacy for clients. We’re excited to have Elizabeth here today on the Wealthy Woman Lawyer Podcast and look forward to hearing her story and her message for women who are interested in getting into appellate work, particularly in the criminal defense space. So hey, Elizabeth, welcome. So happy to see you today. How are you doing?
Elizabeth Franklin-Best: I’m great. It’s great to be here, Davina.
Davina: Good, good. So I partly got excited to have you here, because you’re a client of mine. And I really enjoyed working with you. And I particularly have enjoyed it because you’re in kind of a different practice area from a lot of my typical clients. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about your firm? And when you started it and the nature of your practice?
Elizabeth: Yeah, absolutely. So right now, I started my own firm, maybe about two years ago, and I focus on criminal defense. Federal criminal defense, and then also criminal appeals. Before that, I was working on death penalty cases, I was working in a firm with some other attorneys in that particular area. But I wanted to create something that was a little bit different, something that would allow me to kind of create the sort of space and the environment of like, sort of a successful criminal defense firm that has women, and that has, you know, sort of develop, develop ways to kind of nurture and mentor younger women who are coming into the, the criminal defense space.
So that’s what I’ve done now. So I focus a lot on federal appeals, I focus on federal habeas cases for state convicted inmates. And we do a lot of federal post conviction work, what are called like 2255 motions. And it seems like a number of our cases, kind of in the federal appeals and 2255 space, are a lot of kind of white collar cases. So a lot of people who have been convicted of tax fraud or opioid abuse is sort of the more kind of professional class, those people who are kind of finding themselves in the government’s crosshairs.
Davina: Yeah, yeah. So I have so many questions about all of that. But before we dive into that, could you tell me a little bit about your journey to the law? Like when did you did you always have always fascinated by this question, cuz I get so many different answers. Did you know? Did little Elizabeth know from the beginning that she wanted to be an attorney? Or when did you discover that of interest to you? Little Elizabeth.
Elizabeth: So my parents were both academics. They’re both professors of music. And so I always kind of took this sort of hyper academic path. As an undergraduate, I studied philosophy. And when I graduated with that philosophy degree.
Davina: You can get a great job in philosophy, can’t you?
Elizabeth: Well, that’s exactly right. I got a great job as a bartender. And I did that for about a year until my dad sat me down and said, You know, there’s seriously what are you gonna do with your life? And I said, I don’t know. I don’t know.
Davina: I’m thinking deeply about it, though.
Elizabeth: If you stay in school, though, like you can’t be, you know, effing up too much if you stay in school, so why don’t you kind of keep going? So I applied for master’s degree programs in philosophy. And so I eventually ended up in the University of Wyoming pursuing a master’s degree in philosophy, which was a lot of fun. But three years later is like now what are you going to do? So I was living in Los Angeles at that time and I was working for Kaiser Permanente and really just kind of hanging out in Los Angeles. And I called a friend of mine, from the from the masters program and he had just started law school. And I was like, well, that sounds like a pretty good idea.
And I applied. And I moved back to Wyoming and I started at law school. I mean, I really did not know at that point if it was going to be a good fit for me or not. But it was pretty auspicious sort of decision. I mean, it ended up kind of fitting like a glove. My first year I did an externship at the Wyoming State Public Defender’s Office, I loved it. And you know, 21, 23 years later, I’m still doing criminal defense. I mean, it’s just, it just fit. And it just reflects my values. And it’s just been a really, it’s been a fun ride. But no, I wasn’t a child when I decided to be a lawyer. It was a very impulsive decision.
Davina: I’ve bet you really, though, understood and got into the Socratic method.
Elizabeth: We did, right. I mean, there were parts of it that really, I took to. But then there are other parts that were sort of especially difficult, like when I started my legal writing classes, which is pretty ironic. So I do a lot of legal writing now. But I had to unlearn everything I learned in philosophy, frankly. You know, I found that the people who did the best in law school were people who had a journalism backgrounds or science backgrounds, you know, people who could just sort of like cut through the BS, and as a philosophy major, I was pretty good at the BS.
Davina: Yeah. interesting that you say that, because I actually was a journalism major. And I really, I don’t know who, who I thought was good at except people who maybe had a parents who were attorneys, or people who had some paralegals, you know, people who’ve worked with paralegals and law for a while. But I thought as a journalism, your major, you’re taught to write as journalists a certain way. And it took me a while to catch on about that attorneys write in a different way. And this is the way attorneys write. And that’s a whole different way of writing then journalism. In journalism, you’re telling a story, but you’re doing it in a certain formulaic way.
And so then we learn IRAC in law school, which is a very formulaic way of writing. But I didn’t, it didn’t like I somehow I missed that the day they, somebody mentioned that we were supposed to be doing IRAC. I missed that. And so you know, it took me a while to get the hang of that. So I love that. I did not know you were a philosophy major, we’re gonna have a lot different conversations from now on. And now that I know that you’re. My only experience with philosophy was in, I took the philosophy of religion in college.
Davina: And so as if religion wasn’t deep enough, we got into the philosophy of religion, and that, boy that was deep. So you got into criminal defense and you found that that really fit in with your values. And tell me a little bit more about that.
Elizabeth: I think, again, and maybe, maybe I’m just so much more a product of my background, and even I realized sometimes, but, you know, I just have always kind of felt for the underdog, you know, and I always wanted to kind of move against bullies. I have this really strong anti authoritarian streak. You know, I’m somebody really doesn’t just trust authority figures, and I don’t know exactly where that came from. But it seems to be part of my DNA. And so you know, you don’t have to spend a lot of time in the criminal justice system to realize how inherently unfair it is how, you know, systematic, the unfairness is and just how entrenched in the institutions it’s, you know, themselves that the injustice is.
And so it is always, you know, it’s always been a good foil, it’s always been a good entity the to, you know, to work against, it’s always been very easy to do that, because the injustice just sort of pervades the whole thing. And whether you’re in the juvenile court, whether you’re, you know, setting bond for somebody, whether somebody is getting tried for a case, whether it’s an appeal or post conviction. I mean, there’s just so many different places where the unfairness kind of presents itself. So, I mean, I’ve never been at a loss for finding, you know, injustice that I’ve been able to so challenge, and it’s, it’s been a really, you know, sort of a very meaningful road, you know, I’ve been able to spend time with people that I probably would not have met, if I have a different sort of life.
So I feel like I’ve met more members of my community than I probably would have otherwise. And I’ve learned a lot and I’ve seen a lot and I feel like it’s given me a broader perspective on you know, living in the south and living in South Carolina. And, you know, I’ve had some really great people in this field too. And so, again, it’s just, um, it just sort of fit. People, here in South Carolina, who are my colleagues, you know, we tend to kind of share similar values. And in a place like South Carolina, which is, you know, very conservative politically, it’s been nice to have kind of a large group of people who, you know, um,
Davina: Question authority, yeah.
Elizabeth: Who question authority and who are, you know, a little more progressive in their thinking.
Davina: So, yeah, yeah. I’ll ask you how you got to South Carolina, then. But have you had much pushback from people who are not in the criminal defense world? Who asked you, gosh, how could you do that? How can you defend criminals and I, and there’s, there’s criminals when you’re a public defender, and then what you’re doing and kind of moving into this white collar crime, you’re in this white collar crime space now. And doing appeals, you’re dealing with sort of a different type of client, I would imagine, right?
Elizabeth: Oh Yeah.
Davina: And, and a lot of those people, you know, people are looking at it going, oh, my God, these people are what’s wrong in society? You know, and then it on both in both spectrums, you know, anybody who’s not familiar with intimately with the justice system might ask you that question. And what’s your response to that? Have you been asked that question?
Elizabeth: Yeah, I mean, it’s really kind of interesting, especially in the context of like, the white collar criminals, because many of the people in that space, you kind of find themselves in the crosshairs that the government, you know, they don’t necessarily believe that what they’ve done is wrong. You know, it may be well, I did this, but this is just something that people do, and they get away with, I mean, you know, why am I getting charged with this? You know, I’ve worked my whole life, I’ve contributed to society, I have, you know, given charitable contributions to a number of people. And those defendants, you know, are usually the ones who were like, you know, how is it that I’m now a criminal?
How is it that people are looking at me, like, I’m a criminal, and that’s always just kind of struck me is as a really kind of interesting, psychological, you know, sort of a psychological observation about these these people? What are you just gonna generally this overarching sort of issue, I mean, I, number of people throughout my career have wondered, you know, not only how can you represent criminals, but how can you represent that particular criminal? You know, and so, when I was doing, you know, death penalty work, and you know, you’re in a courtroom, and the victim’s family is there, and the state is there, and sometimes you have a county attorney there. And yeah, there is, and you have press there. And, you know, everyone wants to know, like, you know, who are these people who are representing these really awful criminals?
It can be really, I mean, it can be kind of an overwhelming experience, actually, to sort of feel like you’re, you know, despised. You’re the bad guy, you’re right there with him. But you know, it’s those times that I’ve really had to rely the most of my friends, frankly, and other colleagues and people who kind of get it, you know, it’s, I’m not the person who killed somebody, I’m just somebody who’s trying to make sure this person, you know, is treated fairly, you know, that our constitutional protections extended this person also. So, yeah, I mean, it’s, there’s definitely been an evolution. I mean, I’ve gotten more pushback when I have represented the violent criminals than when I’ve represented the financial criminals.
Davina: Isn’t that interesting. So that’s a, that’s probably a that’s a real distinction of privilege. Usually, you know, we’re talking about privilege of privileged class, you know, being typically white collar versus not privileged. Right, we can say, normally the public defender’s office. Right.
Elizabeth: Exactly, exactly.
Davina: We have you and I have talked a lot about women in the not only the criminal space, I think, I think we certainly had a lot more women doing criminal defense work, then, you know, just a few years ago, decades ago, right, but getting into the appellate work. Are we seeing as many women doing appellate work, or do you still think that’s kind of a man’s game, and particularly white collar?
Elizabeth: Well, I mean, so that’s an interesting. That’s an interesting question. And this becomes an issue, kind of every time the United States Supreme Court starts to issue its calendar for the year. Because every year, you’ll see, you know, who’s been selected, whose cases have been selected for argument before the United States Supreme Court. And it may be 22 men and three women or less. I mean, you know, how many of color? You know, I think the last time an African American woman argued before the United States Supreme Court was Christina Swarns when she argued Duane Buck’s case, and that was maybe four years ago, five years ago.
So I mean, certainly at that, like highest level that highest echelon, women just aren’t there. I mean, they are they’re there. They’re doing the good work, but they’re not the ones who are sort of presenting the case. I mean, and that’s, you know, that’s an issue as well. But, you know, no, I mean, I think I think when you still when you look around kind of objectively, when you look at sort of the large law firms who’s populating those appellate areas? I mean, there are a handful of women, and they’re really good. I mean, they’re very, you know, high quality, you know, advocates, but yeah, I mean, there’s just still a whole bunch of men there.
And, and I’m thinking so specifically of the criminal defense space, where women tend to be kind of underrepresented anyway. And so the women who I’m talking about who have actually, you know, who were in sort of these appellate areas in these large law firms, I mean, they’re not necessarily doing criminal defense. So, you know, the we’re doing appellate criminal defense, I think, is probably, you know, vanishingly small.
Davina: Yeah, that kind of makes you unique in that you’ve spent years doing criminal defense. And then you’ve kind of elevated to the sort of, you know, appellate work, and having worked on death penalty cases and things like that you have a really a depth of experience, and have made that decision. What, what do you think I imagine it must be really challenging from an emotional standpoint, to work on death penalty cases, and do that over and over and over again, because you’re going to, you might prevail in some, but you’re not going to prevail at all, just like anything else. Right.
And so that must be really hard thing. You know, we were often seeing clients talking about, you know, attorneys talking about losing a client. But when, when what you’re doing, you know, we most often with attorneys is about money for our clients, it may be about freedom for our clients, but it’s not often life or death. There’s a few people where it’s life or death, right? We’re looking over the, you know, what an attorney represent as a whole. But you really have been one of those attorneys where your work is life or death.
Elizabeth: Yes. Well, and that, you know, so that’s part of the journey that has gotten me to where I am now, because I started doing the death penalty work, probably 12 years ago. And I initially, you know, I was working on a lot of the appeals at that point, then when you’re doing those cases of being, you have to become familiar with a transcript that describes horribly violent crime. But then you’re also you know, to do death penalty work well, involves investigating a defendant’s background. And oftentimes, that was just as dark if not even darker. And so when I had a caseload that was primarily death penalty work, like it just felt like I cannot get away from the trauma.
And you know, one thing we don’t talk about enough in the legal field, and I think that probably family attorneys, you know, experiences perhaps maybe even as much as a lot of criminal defense attorneys, is what’s called that secondary trauma. I know when you are just so proximate to feel, you know, hostility and negativity and the rest of it. I mean, it really impacts the way you think, and the way you view the world. And you’ve got to be cognizant of that, so that you can address it before it becomes kind of overwhelming. And for me, I mean, I just got to a point that just kind of coincided with my getting appointed on the CJA list, which in federal court, man, I started getting some some criminal appointments. And some of these cases were like, you know, guns and drugs, pretty basic stuff. But I was able to get some of these clients home and back to their families.
And it was just, you know, it was so psychologically an emotionally rewarding to be able to do that, and to really sort of impact people’s lives in a very positive way. And so when I started looking at how I was feeling about for the death penalty work, even though I believe strongly in the death penalty work, and I’m proud of the work I did, but for me, it was not going to be a long term, you know, place that I was going to end up. And that’s because I just needed more light. In my life, I needed more positivity I needed, you know, to kind of go back to actually helping people and you help people it definitely cases don’t get me wrong. But the the wins are few and far between. And when you hit a win, it’s still going to be life in prison. You know, for me, I just wanted something I wanted to have more impact in a different way.
Davina: And so there’s a lifespan, there’s a lifespan to something like that then, right.
Elizabeth: I think. Yeah. I mean, so people are capable of beings for like the long haulers and they’re capable of doing death penalty work for 25-30 years. I feel like I gave it a good 12 years, I did my time, I learned a lot about complex litigation that I’m now able to use in this other work that I’m doing. It’s I mean, I don’t regret it at all. But you know, it was good to get out when I did before I started to burn out. know,
Davina: So what made you decide at what point did you decide to start your own law firm? When did you start it? And what made you sort of make that decision?
Elizabeth: I think, again, when I started getting some of the garden variety, federal criminal defense cases, and realized that I enjoyed them, it reminded me of kind of my earlier career when I was at the public defender office. And, you know, it was just very rewarding. And I knew that if I stayed where I was, I was always going to be in the death penalty universe, you know, there would be another case, and I wouldn’t be able to say no. And it was just gonna keep on going. So I just needed to physically kind of get away from that environment. And I mean, it was scary. It was scary as hell, but I sat down with my husband, I was like, I think this is a cute little cottage.
And I think if I buy it, I could start my own law firm. What do you think honey? And he was like, what? I kind of went from that to Well, okay, maybe I won’t buy. Maybe I’ll just rent some space at first. And then all of a sudden, he’s like, yeah, I mean, that that sort of makes sense. So the next thing I know, it’s like, okay, I’m starting my own business. It was again, I mean, I, it wasn’t an impulsive act. I mean, I spent a lot of time thinking it through. But, you know, at a certain point, you just got to make the leap. You make a leap. And you know, that’s what’s been really nice working with you. Because now that I’ve started my own firm, I’m looking to make other leaps.
Davina: And, and I yeah, yeah, that’s the thing. They don’t tell you starting your own firm in the first leap. And then after that, you got to keep keep leaping.
Elizabeth: There are additional leaps to be made.
Davina: Yeah, yeah. So I do want to talk about the business aspect, because I do think a lot of other women, law firm owners would love to hear kind of some of the things that you’re doing. Because one of the challenges has been, you know, you’re wanting to expand your team, that’s been your, you know, your plan here is to expand the team. But you’re you’re in Columbia, South Carolina. And as we said, there’s already kind of a little bit of a scarcity of this white collar criminal appeals, people with appeal with appellate experience.
And generally in the white collar space, although you’re still doing some other criminal defense work, you’re you’re sort of looking for other people who might want to join you in this endeavor and work with you as part of your team. And it’s been a challenge for you. So let’s talk about some of the ways that you sort of are navigating that challenge right now. Because, it would be nice to hear your experience with that.
Elizabeth: Yeah, I mean, it’s, I mean, this has been a real sort of eye opening experience. I mean, I’ve got it. First of all, my firm is in this beautiful part of town. I’m pretty laid back. I was offering, you know, 20% remote, you can bring your dog to work, you know, I’m totally flexible. So I really kind of thought when I first put out some feelers that, you know, there would be a very kind of high demand. So I was a little surprised when there really wasn’t much more, you know, there was not the demand that I thought there was, I mean, I got some applications. Nothing really kind of blew me away.
There was one application I got and I thought, well, you know, this person might work out so I brought her on. It didn’t work out. So I was, you know, feeling kind of frustrated and down in the dumps about that again. So I moped for about a week, and then started kind of thinking about other things to do. And so, you know, you had told me about this one particular firm that has contract associates, you know, kind of freelance associates. And I used them for a couple of small little projects, and, you know, have some success. But it’s so hard to delegate. And that’s really, that is something that you have to learn how to do. And I felt like I was at the point where I was ready to kind of make that next leap.
And so I went back to that particular platform, the law clerks that legal, and I sent out sort of a message and I asked for, you know, I said, I’m putting together an appellate team. Well, I got a huge number of people who responded to that. And so in one day, because I only kept the invitation open for one day, because I knew I was just getting too many people who were interested, I selected five people who I thought looked like they had, you know, what I was looking for. And now where I’m at, I’ve got two of these associates working on two separate appeals. They both have law clerk experience, they both have criminal experience, and they have complex litigation experience. So these are kind of people who were sort of perfect. I mean, if they had been applying in South Carolina, I probably would have immediately hired them. But we didn’t have anyone with these qualifications in South Carolina. So, you know, this has been I mean, one of my associates is in Arizona.
And the other one, I can’t remember, I think she may be up in Indiana. So it’s really sort of expanded the universe of attorneys that I can bring on as an associate. And frankly, I mean, these are people who are not necessarily in the office, but that’s okay. I mean, I’ve got Zoom, we’ve got the internet. They know what they need to do, the work that they’re doing is mostly federal. And so it kind of feels like it’s a really good development. And so far it has been, I’ve got some more projects I’m getting in the hopper to assign to some of these people. And you know, it works really much like a traditional law firm. Yeah, we have physically in the office.
Davina: Yeah, yeah. I just imagine. You tell me, if you, Elizabeth from a year ago, could you have even imagined that this would be your approach and what you were thinking before all of the stuff started with the pandemic and whatnot?
Elizabeth: No. no, I mean, I, you know, I think there’s sort of a couple of different threads that are sort of gotten me here. I mean, one is working with you and talking to other women law firm owners, because that’s just a great sort of generator of ideas. And then it’s like, once your mind is sort of primed, you know, to look for solutions to problems that you can then identify and articulate, then solutions begin to sort of present themselves. And so, you know, it just sort of fit together. I mean, I had to be kind of receptive to it, you know, I had to be willing to think differently. But it was a lot easier to think differently when you’re talking to other women, law firm owners who were doing things differently. And so it, you know, it really is just sort of been a confluence of, you know, various sort of strains that are kind of happening. I mean, I think, you know, COVID has made everyone have to think differently, right?
Elizabeth: But this has been, it’s been a very productive year, it’s been a year of a lot of growth and creativity. And, you know, it hasn’t been without its frustrations and stresses sometimes, but, I mean, honestly, I’m feeling better about the state of my business now than I think I really could have ever had been. Three years going. And so it’s working out.
Davina: I think, kind of when, when you’re talking about working with a remote team, you know, in my business, my team I’ve got, I’ve worked with different groups of people that I’ve got several, they’re all remote, they’re virtual, working all over the country and the world in some cases. And what I discovered is that when I first started doing I get frustrated, because like, oh, gosh, I just wish I had somebody that could just yell out, you know, hey, Joan, can you just do this? Yeah. But you have to, you have to organize your thoughts. Yes, for you interact, whereas if people are just in your office, your shout now it’s on the go you maybe yell it. So I really think it makes us better managers.
From the standpoint that we have to be more thoughtful about our communication, and then we also have to be more systematic. If you’ve got multiple team players working remotely, there, have you started to think more about your systems and how things can be automated and how things to be communicated. And if there can be certain way that this is, this person finishes this, and it triggers this, you know, for the next person or whatever. So it requires us to think more like systems thinkers. And it may not come naturally to most of us think strategically, but we think strategically for our clients and the work we do, but maybe not necessarily for how we run our business.
Elizabeth: I’ll give you an example of that, I mean, you know, I had this happen today. So I had one of my associates work on a federal habeas case. And so I had sent her this pretty long email saying, I mean, this is kind of, you know, what you need to do I mean, step one, step two, step three, here’s what you need to kind of, you know, put together. And then I had another habeas case that I was going to assign to a different associate. So instead of just kind of writing that same stuff, in a second email to this person, I made a document called, this is how you handle the South Carolina federal habeas case, right, and I together, and for whoever ends up taking a third case, or fourth case, they will receive the document that lays it all out, and a huge time saver.
And it also, you know, sort of identifies exactly what I’m looking for how it needs to look what needs to be done. And it should be, you know, it should make the task so much easier for them. Because the virtual associates, I mean, they want to make you happy. So let them make you happy by telling them exactly what you want. And it’s gonna, you know, help with timing or the amount of time that you need to, they need to be working on this. And just getting efficiencies into the system, I think is how you expand your bandwidth. That’s what I am looking to do right now.
Davina: Yeah, definitely. So you’re in you’re getting a lot of people coming in the door you have needs. And one of the things that, of course, we’re going into pandemic is courts have been closed. And now we’re kind of anticipating, you know, first of all, they’re, first of all, they’re getting the hang of virtual hearings and things like that. So that’s happening a lot. But but with criminal workup, you know, of course, we’re gonna have to be assembling a virtual jury is not gonna mean a thing, right. But you, but we’re anticipating the doors are going to be flung open soon. And then there’s just going to be a deluge right to kind of be prepared for that.
Elizabeth: I think there is going to be I mean, because, you know, remote trials or remote hearings, were fine for certain kinds of hearings. But in the federal, sorry, in the criminal space, you’ve got different constitutional protections at play. So for example, you got the right to a speedy trial, you’ve got the right to confront the witnesses against you. And so those, you know, have to be addressed. And you could not, I mean, there were confrontation clause issues with having virtual trials, and no judge wanted to deal with it, because it, you know, jeopardizes the conviction.
So a lot of the regular criminal trials have just sort of stopped, and now they’re running into speedy trial issues. So there’s going to be a lot of pressure to kind of get a bunch of these guys who have been hanging out in detention centers, get them their trials as quickly as possible, to avoid those constitutional issues. So I expect, I expect criminal appeals will be a growth business in the year 2021-22. That’s my prediction.
Davina Frederick: If somebody is in the who’s been in the criminal defense space, and you’re thinking they’re wanting to get into appellate work, or what kind of advice would you have for them, like, what do you think is important for appellate attorneys do in the criminal space?
Elizabeth: I mean, I really, you know, honestly, I could probably talk a few hours.
Davina: We have a few minutes.
Elizabeth: You know, so so what are the big issues with appellate clients, you know, they’re in prison. And so these are clients that sometimes have emotional needs that are that need to be met and that are not easily met. One thing about going into appellate practice is figuring out a way that you can keep some contact with your client base, even when there’s nothing happening on their case. So what I’ve done, for example is I’ve, you know, I’ve created a newsletter that I send out to clients, you know, I try to do it regularly, not regularly enough. That’s something to sort of work on this year. We’re working on that. But I mean, that’s just something that, you know, I haven’t forgotten about you, I’m sorry, the court takes two years to like rule in your case, sorry.
But you know, it’s an incredibly satisfying sort of area. And, you know, when you’re talking about kind of keeping work coming in the door, I mean, oftentimes, if you are representing somebody on say, like direct appeal, if they lose that, they may need to go into federal or not federal, excuse me, they may want to go into post conviction, you know, whatever that looks like in Florida, or Georgia, wherever. And so they may want to retain you for that. I have a lot of clients who want me to take on their cases at that point, I tend to turn those down, but I refer them to people I know. But after that, they’ll need to go into federal habeas. So I’ve got, you know, a handful of clients that I’ve represented earlier in the pipeline, you know, on direct appeal, for example, who then come back to me a couple years later saying, well, now I really need your help doing federal habeas.
So you know, it’s an opportunity to kind of have these long term relationships with these clients who come back. And, you know, that’s just kind of something to sort of think about, because it may, you know, kind of help in through growing your business, if you want to, you know, find a way to kind of keep them coming back to you. But, you know, aside from that, I think, what’s important about appellate work, I think a lot of people who I think a number of practitioners try to be like, maybe a little too academic, you know, and I think they do, kind of handicapping their own cases, like, I’m not gonna raise this case, because, you know, I know that or I’m not going to raise this issue, because I know this issue isn’t likely to win.
You know, if you’ve got a client who’s serving 20 years in prison, he wants you to raise everything you can, you know, and there are different schools of thought on this. I mean, some people say, Well, you should really just raise your best three or four claims. I’ll raise any claim that I think can help advance the ball. And if if that’s six or seven claims, that’s six or seven claims, and it’s not my job to make the court, you know, the appellate courts work more efficiently. It’s not my job, you know, to make sure that they don’t have too much work to do. You know, my responsibility is to my client, I want my client to be happy, I want my client to feel like he or she is happy is being heard by the system. So that’s another thing that I really tried to focus on with my clients. I mean, if it is a potentially meritorious claim, I’m raising it.
Davina: Yeah. Yeah, it’s always those things we always find, anytime you’re doing any sort of trial work any kind, it’s always some sort of nuance thing that’s going to give you the win and what it’s going to be like, the thing that you didn’t think was going to give you the win is going to be the thing that’s going to give you the win. Right,
Elizabeth: Right. I mean, yeah, I mean, you never can really tell like what the court I mean, you know, sometimes the courts have their own kind of set of issues that they’re focusing on. And they may be looking for a case to come before them where they can really kind of open that up. I had a case back in 2008, where my guy had a speedy trial issue. But we felt really strongly about the fact that the solicitor’s the prosecutors in South Carolina control the docket system. I mean, they get to control like when cases are called and all the rest of that. Nobody in my case had argued that in the record below, but I had amicus counsel come on and do a brief on solicitor control of the docket.
Sure enough, that was the hook. And the Supreme Court granted oral argument on it. We had a big old, you know, kind of fight about it. And the Supreme Court found that the docket control by solicitors was unconstitutional. I mean, it was a huge, huge win. And it was one that had been raised previously, but the court had never expressed an interest in it before. They did in this case. Now, my client still got screwed. He’s still in prison. But you know, yeah, it’s an important point. I mean, you never quite know what they’re interested in or why they’re interested in it. And so yeah, need to be as expansive as you can in determining the universe cases that you’re going to raise and present.
Davina: What are some of the white collar issues that you keep receiving more of right now. I know you and I have talked about the opioid crisis. And I was I was sharing with you about a documentary I’d seen about a doctor who had all of these people were prescribed over prescribed by other doctors. And then because of the laws coming down the pipeline, they were just cutting these people off, and they have these major adicts getting cut off, and it’s dangerous for them. So they were going to this clinic and this doctor was trying to prescribe them what they’ve been prescribing them, and start sort of weaning them off of weaning them down, and wound up being a career ender for him, because he was doing this. So what do you mean, what are we seeing a lot of right now, do you think of.
Elizabeth: I think we’re getting hyper aggressive enforcement of physicians. And I think you see that in the way, you know, the opioid crisis is being handled, as we’ve talked about, but I also see it in the billing issues, you know, I mean, if you are going to be accepting kind of government money, you know, Medicaid, Medicare, then the government’s sort of watching you. And if some of your billing is wrong, or their problems with it, or they believe that you were, you know, requiring too many tests that somebody doesn’t believe serve a legitimate medical purpose, then they’re coming after you for fraud. And they’re doing so at a very aggressive pace.
And I think it’s I mean, I think it’s a real problem, but part of why they’re doing it. I mean, they’re making a lot of money on this stuff, during the federal government makes a lot of money and going after some cases, because they get to some portion of the recovery. So I mean, that that’s a big issue. I just think that in a lot of these cases, you know, what you really kind of have is policy differences that are kind of criminalized sample, you know, I represent a doctor who was, you know, well, he’s convicted now of over prescribing opioids to three different women. Well, nobody ever showed that there was any actual harm to anyone. What happened is he ended up sort of making the very unfortunate, you know, decision to have sex with them.
And that got the government’s attention. And so then, through his medical records, and it turns out, he’s not the best keeper of records, which is also, you know, a big issue. But, you know, without showing any harm, what they did was they went through and of all the records they went through, they found three, that they thought that the conditions that these patients, you know, claimed to have had, that they were not medically indicated for the prescriptions that he then issued. Well, the women didn’t complain. They weren’t, you know, nobody had an overdose. Right. Nobody you know, ended up in the hospital because of prescription, it was really because they were kind of angry at his behavior of having sex with this woman that they went and then start looking and then oh, so you gave her permission. Yes. And he didn’t plead guilty, because he didn’t think he did anything wrong.
But then once he’s convicted, they go, and they look at all the drugs that they think were improperly prescribed. And, you know, the amount of the drugs, you know, increases the federal sentencing guidelines. So he’s looking at a sentence of five to seven years in prison. He’s a medical doctor, he was a pilot. He worked in hospice care. I mean, he’s really kind of a saint, who made a very poor decision, and has, you know, resulted in, you know, this conviction for opioid abuse, essentially. It’s really, you know, it’s, it’s tragic. He has a wife, who has got, you know, certain medical problems. And if he goes to prison for five to seven years, I mean, she’ll probably have to go into some sort of care. Where’s the justice that, you know?
Davina: Yeah. Yeah, I’m sure throughout your entire career, there’s been a lot of situations where you ask those questions. Where’s the justice in this?
Elizabeth: Where’s the justice in that, right?
Davina: How do you keep from getting sort of jaded on some of that when you’re seeing things happen over and over again, because I know for me just, just for my interest in politics, I get if I’m like, right, I’m just ready to, like my head’s about ready to pop off, right? So when you’re working in the trenches like that, and you’re, you’re dealing with your clients, and you’re seeing things happen, and I’m sure you saw a lot of that working as a public defender, as we talked about earlier, you know, what sort of keeps you going and fighting the good fight.
Elizabeth: Man, a good win will sustain me for a year. You know, I had a guy last year who was serving life in prison. And we raised an ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim. So the federal guy, and by the time it was over, his sentence was reduced to 20 years. And so that was a big win. And last year, I had another case where my guy was looking at 13 to 16 years, but we had a contested, sentencing hearing on the drug weights. And he walked out with six years.
And after he said to me, he’s like, you know, instead of seeing my daughter when she’s 18, you know, I’ll get to hold her when she’s eight. And we just heard from him actually, about two weeks ago, and he’s already heading into a halfway house. So you know, he’s getting into his family. And I mean, those are the kind of wins that just keep going, because they happen, you know, I mean, you can actually win these cases. If you were you know, yeah, you lose some and it really sucks. But man when you win, there’s just like, nothing like it.
Davina: Spoken like a true you know, litigator. So good.
Elizabeth: You just want to party for a week.
Davina: Exactly, exactly. So, before we wrap up, tell everybody where they can find out more about you on the internet, how they can find all you on social, how they get in touch with you if they want to.
Elizabeth: Yeah, I mean, feel you know about my website is www.elizabethfranklinbest.com. I’m on LinkedIn. I’m on Twitter. I’m on Facebook. I’m in Columbia, South Carolina. My phone number is 803-331-3421. You know if anyone has any questions or wants to talk about, you know, if anyone has any questions about going into this area of law, you know, I’d be more than happy to talk to other women who might be interested in into this area. It’s an interesting, I mean, it’s very satisfying. It’s very interesting. It can be very lucrative. You know, we need more women, for sure.
Davina: Definitely, definitely. Well thanks, Elizabeth, so much. I really enjoyed it. And I appreciate you being here being on the Wealthy Woman Lawyer podcast.
Elizabeth: Yes, this was fun Davina. And I’ll talk to you again pretty soon.
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