“My entire life I swore I’d never be a lawyer, and if I did, I said I’d never do criminal defense,” said criminal defense lawyer Jason Sheffield (J.D. ’05). The former actor has been recognized by Georgia Super Lawyers for criminal defense work. He is also a law professor and author.
Sheffield attended Georgia Law after earning a bachelor of science at Clemson in pre-med. He thought he might specialize in entertainment law.
“I changed course,” he laughed. But Sheffield didn’t leave the entertainment industry entirely.
His first novel, Son of a Bitch, was published in July 2017 by Michael Terrance Publishing (London). It’s a legal thriller about the uneven personal relationship between a mother and son (both lawyers) and the upheaval that follows when one is called upon to defend the other in court.
There is some truth woven into the pages. His mother, Linda, became a criminal defense lawyer when he was young, and she was one of few women finding their way into male-dominated courtrooms.
“I have some strong opinions on growing up with a mom who had to endure all that,” he said.
“All that” included his mother’s struggle to be taken seriously and the significant task of breaking the glass ceiling that existed in the late 1970s.
“I don’t think they were ready for her,” he mused. “She was very, very smart and determined to be the best lawyer she could be for her clients. She got pushback.”
Beyond the familial details, Sheffield’s book departs into a novel so he could make a bigger point.
“I wanted to bring readers into a full story that included acceptance, forgiveness and rediscovery of love as the characters go about their experiences as criminal defense lawyers.
“Ben, the son in the story, is a lot like me in my pursuit of understanding and desire for greater love in my life. He’s also a fighter, and he’s flawed. I guess he is a lot like me,” admitted Sheffield.
He enjoys writing characters who survive difficult situations. “If they can find a path to save themselves, I hope readers can too,” he explained.
He has enjoyed feedback from readers saying how funny the book is.
“I take that as a real compliment,” he said. “I love using humor as a survival tool.”
When the title of the book first came to him, he laughed but then realized it worked on a number of levels.
“I liked the play on words,” he explained. “Of course any woman who is strong, driven, accomplished, even brassy, is often referred to as a bitch. That’s obviously not a new conversation, but I find those values admirable.”
He also explained that Ben, his wry, sardonic main character, “is a little bit of an S.O.B.” Ben thinks harshly of his mother because of a multitude of childhood issues with her. “But after facing his own difficulties in law school and in private practice, he begins to understand his mother’s struggles and that she isn’t a ‘bitch’ after all,” Sheffield said.
Even with the added duties of book signings and promotion, and with a prequel novel in the works, Sheffield has no intention of giving up his day job. Going to law school at Georgia State and later the National Criminal Defense College were two of his best decisions, he said.
“I immediately fell in love with it,” Sheffield said. “It was empowering.”
His time in law school and as associate editor of the Law Review “was without a doubt one of the most life-changing experiences,” he said. “I am forever in debt to the College of Law for my education.”
Sheffield found his niche in trial classes, where he was able to perform and write. Having grown up around criminal defense work, he found those to be the most interesting cases. He decided to follow in his mother’s footsteps.
He teaches on expert testimony as an adjunct professor at Emory Law and also teaches at trial colleges in the United States and abroad, most notably at the Republic of Georgia’s Criminal Defense College. Once only seating juries for murder trials, the Republic has expanded its citizens’ rights to a jury trial in a broader spectrum of criminal cases as it tries to join the European Union.
A partner in private practice at Peters, Rubin & Sheffield PA in Decatur, Sheffield has handled hundreds of cases in his 13 years of practice.
“As a defense lawyer, you step into the line of fire every day,” he explained. “I love standing up to the government and state and saying, ‘You’ll have to get through me before you get to my client.’
“I consider it my stage now,” he said. “I absolutely love it.”