Member Spotlight with Xavier Donaldson

By Xavier Donaldson

Xavier Donaldson

What do you find most rewarding about being an attorney?

I love the euphoria, the sense of accomplishment and the hugs of gratitude after securing favorable results in complex federal cases, state murder trials and multi-defendant conspiracy matters. But for me, there is nothing more rewarding than when young people of color from challenged, trauma-induced neighborhoods, very similar to where I was reared, appear inspired when they see me enter or exit a federal or state courthouse, or when an elder person gives me a genuine smile of “you make us proud.” These brief encounters remind me that my presence as a litigator is welcomed and necessary in courtrooms across this country.

What do you find most challenging about being an attorney?

As a criminal defense attorney, my challenge is ensuring that every judge understands the “why” before any of my clients are sentenced. The statistics clearly provide evidence of the correlation between the failure of the “birth lottery” and criminal conduct. Yet, oftentimes, the goal of punishment usurps the “why” related to criminal conduct. In my opinion, if the “why” is not thoroughly considered prior to sentencing a defendant, then justice is not served.

Who is your hero or heroine in the legal world?

I admire attorneys and jurists who exhibit courage under fire by doing what’s right simply because it’s the right thing to do. From the late, great civil rights attorney O.T. Wells to Anthony Ricco’s intellectual yet unabashedly personal commitment to the representation of death-eligible clients to Judge Shira Scheindlin’s courageous decision in Floyd, which ended the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policies. These giants continually remind me of my responsibilities as an attorney to bring truth to power when representing my clients.

What advice would you give young lawyers just starting their career?

Young lawyers should be true to themselves, distinguish themselves at whatever they are doing, and find someone they trust that has experience and success in similar pursuits. The people instrumental to my growth are those who provided honest, enlightening and sage advice regarding career choices, strategies and work/life balance.

What or who inspired you to become a lawyer?

I became a lawyer because my older brother, Thomas, also a lawyer, explained to me the importance of attorneys and judges and how they are the bedrocks of change in this country.

What do you think that most people misunderstand about lawyers and the legal system?

There is an erroneous belief that to be a criminal defense attorney you must support your client’s alleged conduct, and are not simply representing your clients’ and society’s interests. Criminal defense representation, however, is guaranteed by the Constitution as a necessary safeguard against the power of the government. People often inquire, “How can that lawyer represent that type of person?” My first response is always “because a just society requires that the accused be accorded zealous counsel and, more importantly, can you imagine a just society without criminal defense attorneys? I cannot.”

If you could practice in a different area of the law, what would it be?

I absolutely love the courtroom and all the preparation leading up to a good old-fashioned courtroom battle. Give me any case involving any type of law and I really like my chances in the courtroom!

What is your passion outside of work and the law?

Aside from my family, it would have to be sports. Any sport. Similar to the adversarial nature of a courtroom, I simply love the competitiveness of sports! I think I have tried to play and win just about every sport possible.

Lawyers should join the New York State Bar Association because . . .

The legal industry continues to lag in diversity and inclusion in leadership positions and the recognition of implicit bias as it relates to hiring and appointments. It has been my experience, however, that NYSBA is fully committed to ensuring that all lawyers have the opportunity to hold leadership positions, present at CLE courses on cutting-edge issues and fully participate on the executive committees and operations of the sections that are the backbone of the Association. Moreover, NYSBA offers amazing opportunities to expand your legal network and diverse and informative continuing legal education classes.

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