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The Defender: Dan Goldman ‘11L to Lead Northern Virginia Capital Defense Office

Dan Goldman '11LDan Goldman ’11L

It’s no secret that law students read a lot. Whether or not they retain every single page is a different story. Ask any attorney, however, and they’ll tell you that during their three years of legal training, there were certain gems of judicial brilliance they stumbled across that have stuck with them—providing a reminder of why they wanted to become a lawyer in the first place.

For Daniel Goldman ‘11L, the first W&L Law alumnus to head one of Virginia’s four regional capital defender offices, that inspiration comes from Justice Hugo Black’s opinion in Gideon v. Wainwright: “[I]n our adversary system of criminal justice, any person hauled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him. This seems to us to be an obvious truth…”

Goldman began law school with aspirations of pursuing a career in indigent criminal defense. In fact, it was one of the main reasons he decided to attend W&L. “I chose W&L Law primarily for the fantastic criminal defense faculty and for the warm and friendly welcome my wife and I received from admissions staff and faculty when we visited.” Goldman certainly took full advantage of W&L’s unique combination of some of the nation’s leading scholars in the criminal defense and opportunities to put the skills garnered in the classroom into actual practice.

During his 3L year, Goldman was named the recipient of the Oliver White Hill Law Student Pro Bono Award for his commitment to pro bono and public service projects while in law school. The award, named for a Virginia litigator who was instrumental in dismantling racial segregation laws, recognizes a law student’s commitment to uncompensated or minimally compensated pro bono work and other public service. It is bestowed by the VSB Committee on Access to Legal Services. Goldman amassed over 100 hours of volunteer service during each of his three years at W&L, including: helping to revive the Southwest Virginia Innocence Project, teaching in Roanoke’s Street Law Program, co-founding the W&L chapters of the National Lawyers Guild and the Middle East and North Africa Law Society, and serving as a student attorney in W&Ls Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse. He also worked for a summer in a clerkship with the Public Defender Service supporting attorneys in felony trials.

All of his hard work has paid dividends in his legal career. Goldman now serves as the lead Capital Defender for the Northern Virginia Capital Defender Office, which represents poor persons charged with capital murder and facing the death penalty throughout Northern Virginia in the state courts. The office delivers capital defense services through a staff of dedicated attorneys, mitigation specialists and investigators, and office manager, as well as contracting with outside fact investigators, mental health professionals, and other experts.

The office emphasizes team-based defense and a holistic approach to questions of culpability and mitigation. While Daniel admits that the work can at times be “emotionally draining and often sad,” he finds his role particularly rewarding due to the countless opportunities he has to “build relationships of trust and friendship with my clients and help them find hope in what at first appears to be a completely hopeless situation.”

For those thinking about pursuing a career in criminal defense, Goldman has some invaluable words of advice garnered from years of experience at the highest level of practice in the field: “Take all the criminal law courses and clinics you can. Get to know those professors. Intern and volunteer for public/capital defender offices. Read all you can about the criminal justice system and relevant social science research. Reach out to practitioners to get their experience. Find out which jurisdictions most need help and go there.”

Great advice indeed—but perhaps even a more important prerequisite for success for any lawyer is a passion for justice and faith in the rule of law—something Goldman obviously has in abundance.