Richard S. Kling
Clinical Professor of Law
During the 1960s and 70s, the counter-culture
used "flower power," protests and love-ins to fight the
perceived corrupt and over-reaching system of American government.
Defense attorney Richard Kling, a self-proclaimed product of the
60s and clinical professor at the Chicago-Kent Law Offices,
now uses the system to fight the system.
Professor Richard Kling grew up witnessing first-hand the dangers of
an aggressively prosecutorial government. When Kling was four years old,
his father, a full-time functionary of the Communist Party of America,
was investigated by the House Committee on Un-American Activities and
went underground for five years to avoid federal prosecution, entrusting
to his wife the care and support of their two children. With this background,
it's no coincidence that Kling developed a keen awareness of injustice
and has used it to become one of Chicago's most recognized and passionate
"The defense attorney is the one person who stands up to the powerful
government, which can take everything from your name and your freedom
to your life, and says, You're going to have to go through me,'"
"The government has to prove a crime has been committed and follow
some rules and jump through some hoops in order to do so," he continues.
"If they do it, the system works. If they don't, the system still
This is the message Kling tries to impart to the students who work with
him in the Chicago-Kent Law Offices. Kling typically takes on nine to
12 clinic students each semester to help defend clients in cases that
range from burglary to capital murder.
"Students learn technical skills and how to think like lawyers,
how to put cases together and take them apart," Kling says of the
benefits of Chicago-Kent's clinical program. "I advise my students
to think like the opponent. If they do that, they will know what's going
to get thrown at them and how to beat it."
Kling acknowledges that a career as a defense attorney has some built-in
disadvantages, especially when defending a client accused of committing
"When you represent a client in a murder trial, you get the anger
of the prosecutor, the anger of the judge, the anger of the public and
often times the anger of the client [in pro bono cases], who perceives
you're getting paid by the system and so you're going to sell them out,"
Kling also emphasizes that the defense has to be heard in a criminal
justice system that can stress prosecution to a fault.
"Justice is often overlooked in favor of politics, in favor of the
front-page headline," he says. "I believe judges and prosecutors
need to be better educated to the fact that they are not there just to
convict; they're there to bring justice. Sometimes that means not
According to Kling, over-zealous prosecution is one reason why so many
Illinois Death Row inmates have been found innocent in recent years, leading
to the governor's moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois and a marathon
review of 142 clemency appeals to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board in
late 2002. Kling, who opposes the death penalty and favored the review
in concept, represented clients in two of the appeals.
"What ended up happening is that 20 years of the worst cases that
ever hit the system were stuffed into a two-week review period,"
he says. "It was horrible for the parole board, it was horrible for
the attorneys, and it was horrible for the victims. No one walked away,
I think, for the better."
Kling does not pull his punches, in or out of court. His courtroom demeanor,
which often consists of rolled-eyes and exasperated sighs in response
to the prosecution, is sometimes interpreted as calculated to sway the
jury. But Kling explains that such behavior is purely reactive.
"I get very emotionally involved in my cases, and I think it's a
mistake for lawyers not to," he says. "If you don't want to
be emotionally involved, go drive a truck."
Kling, whose passion for defense work shows no sign of diminishing, won't
be driving long-haul routes anytime soon.
"People frequently ask how I can defend guilty people," he
says. "Guilty people are really easy to represent, because if the
system does what it is supposed to do as much as I may feel a personal
loss-- I can go home and sleep. It's when you represent innocent people
that are potentially in danger of being convicted that you lose sleep."