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!


Anonymous Gideon said...

As I said on skelly's blog - I think you're wrong. I think even good pds would get frustrated with that question time and time again. Although, as I've commented - it pisses me off, but yet I haven't had a single client call me a "public pretender" - ever.

12:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree! Especially good PDs would get frustrated with this question time and time again. Particularly if the clients are asking the questions for inappropriate reasons (because the lawyer is a woman, minority, or disabled and the client is discriminatory).

But the question is the way to handle it. I'd say quickly and efficiently without showing any anger. Like when, time and time again, after a hard fought victory for a client they come back and commit another crime! How frustrated does that make you feel? More than being called a public pretender. But the way I handle it is to take out my frustration elsewhere and focus on the task at hand (as much as I can) rather than wonder why did this client disregard all our previous conversations and go and do this same shit and now expect me to waive a magic wand and save them again?


12:27 PM  
Anonymous Gideon said...

Yeah I agree that the latter is far more frustrating than the former. In fact, I worked my rear off for a client a few months ago - got an out of court settlement (a modification) and then two months later, I checked to see where he was and how he was doing and lo and behold! he was back in.

I just shook my head and looked at the next file on my desk.

1:07 PM  
Blogger ACS said...

Totally - I just try to remind myself to not take it personally and focus on the success stories, which are harder to remember because they're not in your face, calling you from jail, they move onto your life and get arrested for crimes no more.

1:11 PM  
Anonymous rachel said...

I don't mind being asked if I'm a real lawyer; what I mind is people (clients, class members, attorneys from other firms) assuming I'm a secretary. Because as we all know, women aren't lawyers.

True story: it's happened several times. I now introduce myself very forcefully as "an attorney with Dewey Cheatham & Howe" ...

11:09 PM  
Blogger Ruth said...

The worst is having a well-known private attorney call you a public pretender in front of a full courtroom. Don't laugh, this happened to me...

12:50 AM  
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4:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm replying to ACS's comment when he said, "focus on the success stories, which are harder to remember because they're not in your face, calling you from jail, they move onto your life and get arrested for crimes no more."

I was a defendent 10 years ago, my PD worked diligently and intelligently on my case and got me a plea that I could live with. Its been 10 years, and I've rebuilt my life, have friends and a good job, and a future. And have been 'arrested for crimes no more'.
I am eternally grateful to my PD. I stumbled onto this blog, and I wanted to just say - thanks to all of you - what you do matters and is appreciated more than you think.
And wherever you are, Kevin, you saved my life, thank you, and I'm trying not to waste it.

4:10 AM  

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