Sunday, October 22, 2006

Dealing with: "Are you a real lawyer?" question

As PDs well versed in the ways of the court, we know that there are plenty of great lawyers out there, not all of whom work for the PDs office (depending on your area - some areas, it might be all PD until you get upwards of paying $20K a case). Also, we all know that many PDs are overworked, so they don't have the time for hand holding that private attorneys can do. Heck, if I got $250 an hour for whatever, I'd do a lot more sympathetic listening and explaining too! I think I do a good enough job as it is, but some clients and their mothers who call every day would probably rather have a little more hand holding.

On the other hand, who wants to pay lots of extra money to get your hand held by some dude who is so bad that they're always asking the PDs in the courtroom not just how the judge is but how to do simple procedures?

Bottom line is that although I wish to avoid generalizations, I have noticed that a few of the PDs most offended at being called a public pretender or not a real lawyer are also the ones who perhaps most deserve criticism for not exuding confident professionalism.

Perhaps I'm just lucky, but after the hundreds and hundreds of clients (maybe I'm up to a thousand), nobody has gotten past the initial 'are you a real lawyer? ' thing. Maybe it has something to do with confidence. Guess what, if you are a real lawyer, you're not going to argue with your poor client about what they call you!

Let me set the scene. A client sees you and makes a comment demonstrating how they are unsure if you, a PD can help them.

Bad PDs think: 'why do I want to help this a-hole, who committed a crime and now wants to give me flack for trying to help his poor ass?'

Good PDs think: 'hmm, this would be a tad offensive to a lesser lawyer, but no more than the crime that this person committed. I have a thick skin because I am confident enough in my constitutional role to stand up and defend people who have often done things that I personally disagree with. In order for me to help this person, I need to succinctly explain to them my role.'

I spend less than a minute explaining my role, if necessary, and then demonstrate my comptency with my actions, not with fighting words. I'd say 'yes Mr. X, I am a lawyer. I decided to become a public defender because I believe that the amount of justice that a person receives should not be determined by the amount of money that the person has. Now, what is going on with your case?'

C'mon, the client who asks this question is often scared or worried and lacks the social skills to adequately ask about or even evaluate the level of service and effort that they are receiving. I bet that most clients are thinking that, perhaps because of the many bad PDs that we know of that they may have experienced. They are basically asking 'are you lazy and going to screw me because of it?'

Isn't that a natural question? I am a little more worried about the clients who don't ask because I know that they are placing their trust in me. Do I deserve their trust? I try. I have to appear confident.

Was I a great attorney when I first started? Well, I won my first few jury trials. But then I lost. Would I lose this trial now? Probably not. I might have planned it and done better or I probably would have convinced the client to plea.

Why do I think that is the best reaction to a person who questions you? Showing that you care about listening to the client, work hard for them, prove that you do a good job is the best answer.

Geez, this little comment turned into a rant. I think I'll post this on my site now!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Ode to good prosecutors

I must admit that I'm stealing this idea from somebody else (I can't remember who), but I wanted to put this out there. Wait, I remember it was Rumpole, who just posted another good thought about a life examined. So what is my view?

I love fair prosecutors. Those who know how to wield the enormous power that they have. It is so refreshing to see justice being offered. Plus it is so much easier to help your clients when the prosecutors are fair.

Sure, I can win some of cases. I at least know that I can make it much more difficult for them to get a conviction by at least dragging it out for a long time and raising many issues for appeal. But good prosecutors don't make me do that. They see a bad case as a bad case. Recognizing that they have the power to seriously screw someone, they know how to focus on the really bad guys and ignore the weaker criminals who've made some bad decisions but aren't violent or sociopaths. It is such a risk to take a case to trial with lots of prison on the line for most people, so allowing people who don't deserve being forced to prove their not guiltyness before judges liable to hand out prison time if they lose is the most heartening part of my job.

The guidelines are harsh and don't distinguish from people who just got out of prison and those who had some serious crimes 20 years ago. The drug laws are insane with the mandatory miniumums. You can't actually sell cocaine in south florida without being within 1,000 feet of a church, school, store. If the state wanted to, they could triple our prison population quickly. They could basically bust our budget by hammering everyone. But they don't. I thank them for it. And I am thankful for prosecutors who will listen to me when I say, hey, this is what this case is about, or those that will pay attention to what comes out in depos.