Biography: Retrospective July 14 2016
For three decades, Attorney Robin Shellow of The Shellow Group has been a fixture in the courthouses of Milwaukee County and the outlying counties and municipalities spread across Wisconsin. From complex white-collar fraud cases in the baroque splendor of the federal courthouse near the shores of Lake Michigan, to the steady stream of drug cases overcrowding the bleak utilitarian circuit courts near the interstate, Attorney Shellow has been there and continues to make her presence known on behalf of the wide-ranging clients she represents. No matter the court, and no matter the client, the common denominator is the compassion, conscience and creativity which she brings to each and every defense. A passionate and empathic defense based upon listening and her belief in “thinking with a smart heart”.
Much of what has made this level of intensive representation possible is a commitment to the idea of The Shellow Group as a low-volume/full-service law firm. Low-volume meaning that The Shellow Group tries to keep its client load at a manageable level and not simply take every case which walks through the door. This philosophy goes hand in hand with The Shellow Group’s simultaneous dedication to being a full-service law firm, meaning that The Shellow Group strives to address the totality of a client’s life and the conditions which have brought them in contact with the criminal justice system, as more often than not there are larger issues present in a client’s situation in addition to just the current case at hand. Whether it be undiagnosed psychological conditions, or long-standing addiction issues underlying the alleged criminal behavior, due to her wide range of experience with clients from all walks of life—as well as the level of in-depth involvement in cases sometimes spanning years of a client’s life—Attorney Robin Shellow is uniquely equipped to provide heartfelt defenses tailored to each client’s specific case needs.
These principles have also allowed Attorney Shellow the special opportunity to occasionally advocate on behalf of clients whose cases involve issues near and dear to her own heart. For instance, on the subject of the opiate epidemic currently sweeping across both the inner city streets and leafy green suburbs of America—an epidemic which she has termed the “Heroin Holocaust”—it may be best to refer to Attorney Shellow’s own words to shed light on the depths to which she is invested in this issue. An issue which has ruined countless lives, torn families and entire communities apart, yet continues to be treated by the courts with the same “send ‘em all to jail”, tough-on-crime logic that has proven to be faulty. Having worked closely with many of the foremost specialists in the field, Attorney Shellow approaches the problem with the eye of an addictionologist in the following passage:
Why so many young and promising people are turning to heroin is a matter that this author believes may have some relationship to the proliferation of pain killer prescriptions. But, the real question all of us need to figure out is quantitative and one of degree. Why can Mary smoke two cigarettes at a party on the weekend and not even crave them during the week, while Tim quickly finds himself buying cartons of Marlboro Reds? I call it the addiction chip–regardless of whether it is nurture or nature, for those who have the “chip” it makes no difference whether it’s a Marlboro Red or China White. One answer may lie in some difficult to obtain and shaky statistics, but which bear a second look when asking questions such as “why has the ‘addiction chip’ been activated in so many promising young people? How did heroin become a gateway drug for teens who have never even smoked pot, and whose family does not have a relevant history of addiction?” Improbably, it seems as if heroin—the drug which killed jazz great Charlie Parker, who once said of it that “if God made anything better, he kept it for himself”—yes, that heroin, the drug which strikes fear in the hearts of even the most hardened drug users as the one thing they’ll never do; yes, that same heroin, which took out entire African-American communities upon finding its way back from Vietnam in the 1970’s; yes, that heroin is now being sought out and shot up by baby-faced high school sophomores in the gated communities of every affluent exurb across the country. (The Heroin Holcaust: Part Two)
On the same issue of opiate addiction, Attorney Shellow—as only someone with decades of multifaceted firsthand experience can do—addresses the dilemma from the perspective of reform-minded policy advocate in discussing the usefulness of Drug Courts in the following passage:
Throughout the country, in counties of states both big and small, the criminal justice system has implemented a thing called Drug Court. These courts come in different models. In some jurisdictions, successful completion of a drug court program means that the offender is relieved of all or most of the consequences of a criminal conviction. Other models operate as the last stop before a prison sentence. Both models suffer from a fundamental flaw. While addictionologists and others on the front lines of alcohol and other drug abuse (commonly known as AODA) know that relapse is part of the disease, drug courts—regardless of the model–do not operate under the disease management theory of addiction.
The reason I find myself revisiting topics such as these so often is that, since The Shellow Group (TSG) was founded in the late 80’s, successfully representing addicts is something I consider a point of pride, as well as an area of criminal defense which tends to be woefully underserved. I have operated my office as something of an ad hoc drug court long before drug courts were a normal part of the criminal justice system. For nearly 29 years, whether a person had a marijuana offense or was charged with embezzlement, I have always asked clients to take urine drug screens as a matter of course. Using our own re-offense data, we have been able to show drug courts that long term sobriety dramatically lowers recidivism, as evidenced by the re-offense rate of my clients being less than 2 percent. Today, overall re-offense rates outside of drug courts run between 50 and 65 percent within the first year of release from incarceration, and 50 percent within 6 months of being placed on probation. TSG’s re-offense rates are so low because our representation involves a time commitment that often runs into hundreds of hours from bail to sentencing. My philosophy is that “we hold addicts accountable for managing their own diseases so that courts, taxpayers, and probation agents don’t have to”. (Treatment Works: Alternatives To Incarceration)
Pretty heady stuff. And it can seem like a lot to take in. Such is the nature of a criminal defense though, for both the accused defendant and their defense attorney. A lot of difficult questions need to be asked by both parties. Does this attorney understand me? Are they really hearing what I am saying? Can we work together? Effective and rigorous communication is the key to successful representation—both in and out of the courtroom–as large amounts of often conflicting information must be considered and assimilated in order to view the situation fully and chart a way forward. Too often the criminal justice system does not see a person in full, but rather another “type” in a long line of others in a similar situation, or from a similar background. In the case of Attorney Robin Shellow and The Shellow Group, what one finds is an experienced and conscientious attorney who has spent her career truly listening to people and their families when they are at their lowest. A lawyer who has absorbed the methodologies of various disciplines through years of close work. Someone who thinks with a smart heart and, as such, has been successful presenting fully formed people, with all their complexities, in courtrooms throughout the State and beyond. It is only after we understand the boxes the world has put us in that we can begin to think outside of them.