There may not be many people who decide in first grade what they want to do when they grow up and go on and do just that.
Michael Brewer is among that minority.
As a first-grader, he said he wanted to become a lawyer, specifically doing criminal defense. His mother, who has worked in child support enforcement for the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office for 34 years, steered him toward being a defense attorney, and he has always respected the work done by his uncle, who is a criminal defense attorney.
“It was pretty built-in,” Brewer said. “I wanted to be in court, not be sitting at a desk.”
After graduating from Brownstown Central High School in 2004, he earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in financial analysis from Indiana University in 2009 as part of a dual program and then a Juris Doctor from the University of Oregon in 2012.
He and his wife then moved back to Bloomington to study for the bar exam and took that together, and he was sworn in as a lawyer on Oct. 15, 2012.
Brewer spent seven years doing criminal defense and family law at a private firm in Terre Haute and also became a public defender in 2014.
His wife, who is a law professor, got a job at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma, so while living there for two years, Brewer worked as a federal defense attorney.
His wife then landed back at IU as a law professor, and he started his own practice, Brewer Law Firm PC, in Indianapolis and has remained a criminal defense attorney.
Even while he was pursuing his dream, Brewer maintained contact with one of his high school teachers, Tim Perry.
Perry now teaches at Seymour High School, and when it came time for students in his advanced speech and communication classes to do oral interpretation speeches, he thought it would be beneficial to have Brewer stop by.
He was excited when Brewer agreed to do it.
“Just the fact that it’s something different and (the students) know that it’s a break for them, it’s a nice change for them, as well,” Perry said. “Any time it’s something different for my students to experience in a different voice, of course, with him being from here, it’s huge.”
Brewer said he was happy to do this for Perry because he and other high school teachers provided him a lot of help and resources.
“If I asked him something, he would do that for me,” Brewer said. “People were willing to help me. People were willing to maintain relationships and network. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t maintain a network and a relationship with Mr. Perry.”
The students also will be giving persuasive speeches, so Brewer fit that topic, too.
As a criminal defense attorney, he said he has to be able to persuade his clients to do the right thing.
“The right thing may not be the right thing for the world but the right thing for them,” he said. “You have to be able to effectively communicate to them, persuade them, because that’s ultimately your job.”
While giving a speech or just communicating with others, Brewer said the No. 1 thing is to be yourself.
“In jury trials, I’m always myself. In court, I’m always myself,” he said. “I went from state practice, which is just elected judges, and then I went to federal court, which are judges that are appointed by presidents. I was told by my bosses ‘You’ve got to be formal. You’ve got to stand at the podium. You’ve got to do all of these things.’ I said, ‘No. I’ll follow the rules, but I’m going to be myself.’
“People can see you when you’re not yourself, and they’re not going to listen to you because you’re fake, and no one likes fake people,” he said.
In jury trials, Brewer said he often sings in the middle of his closing, and he has never lost a case by doing that. It allows him to read the audience.
“That’s No. 2, know who you are talking to,” he said while offering another piece of advice. “People understand that you’re being yourself when you do that, and it resonates. It’s because you’re able to effectively communicate.”
The third important thing is to have a theme and a theory. He gave an example of a case in Oklahoma where he represented a woman charged with attempted murder after shooting a woman who was a member of a gang. She claimed it was self-defense, so it was Brewer’s job to persuade the jury to believe that.
From the jury selection to opening statements to closing, he did just that. He said he was persuasive from the get-go.
“You establish that esteem from the start,” Brewer said. “That’s the same as if you’re giving a written speech or you’re having communication with your boss or if you’re teaching a class. You want to set out a little bit what you’re seeking to show.”
It’s also key for Brewer to establish rapport with his clients and communicate their likely outcome to them, prepare witnesses to effectively testify and communicate and also communicate with prosecutors for potential resolutions.
“Being able to establish the risk and reward to your client, you have to be persuasive. No one wants to be in prison or jail,” Brewer said.
In opening statements and while questioning witnesses, he said he continues to be persuasive.
“It’s not just that witness who is listening to your question. It’s the 12 jurors who are also listening and wanting to believe you, which is where becoming yourself, being yourself is important to get people to listen to you,” he said.
Brewer said the closing is the most important part of a jury trial because he can set up evidence accordingly and visuals really come into play.
“You don’t want to let the prosecutor interpret this for you. You want to interpret it for (the jury),” he said.
Then his hope is the jury comes back with a finding in his client’s favor. In the Oklahoma case, after a four-day trial and two-hour jury deliberation, his client was acquitted of the charges.
By effectively communicating and persuading, Brewer did his job of representing the innocent and misunderstood.
“Bring it full circle,” he said. “That’s a big thing, in my opinion, with communication is to complete the story.”