Sunday, November 26, 2006

Giving advice to clients

I hear from lots of attorneys about the difficulty in getting clients to make the right decisions. I hear that. Sometimes, especially when I'm taking over for other lawyer's clients, it can be hard to make them understand that sometimes admitting to something you didn't do is the right thing. I mean, they can take the chance and I'll go to trial any day on any case, but actual innocence gets you nowhere if you look guilty. Losing that gamble can mean years in prison.

And I hate trying to explain to people with unduly pessimistic or optimistic views of their case what reality is. I have to say 'Yes, you can lose and go to prison' or 'no, there is really no way that we can lose so you should consider take the risk and going to trial.' When I do the former, people often think I'm working for the prosecutor when I'm just trying to make them understand the drawbacks so they aren't later all surprised.

The hardest case for me are the arguable cases where there is no clear advice to give. I seem to have too many of these and thus too many clients looking to me. I didn't become a lawyer because I had a God complex. I don't want to make these decisions about people's lives, I came here to help people decide by providing them all the options and telling them that I'd fight hard for them whatever they choose.

But people's choice far too often is to say 'whatever you think.' What? Whatever I think? Geez, that's hard. Often I don't know enough to make a decision for them. Are they risk takers? How old are they? Have then done a long prison bid? Would losing totally change their life or are they doing life in prison on the installment plan anyways?

This certainly gives me something to give thanks about: at least I don't need to make these kind of horrible decisions on my own behalf.

7 Comments:

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Blogger swd said...

Healthy with coconut oil!

I know what you mean. I often have clients say, "I'll do whatever you say." I tell them at every trial comes down to the individual's nature. If the principle is important to them, and they didn't do it, then we should try it, no matter how grim it looks. On the other hand, if managing risk is important, than we should take the deal.

That seems to help folks out.

9:21 PM  
Blogger Mojave Joe said...

When I did trial work some years ago, I often wished the prosecutor would just say, "Look, I'm not going to offer a plea in this case. Just prepare the case for trial." That would certainly have made the job easier (recognizing that it might be hardewr on the defendant--or maybe not?) Instead, the prosecutor's in my jurisdiction dangled 'generous' terms when their case was bad (i.e., they should really drop the case), and so-so terms when the defendant's case was bad (i.e., not good terms, but given the strength of the evidence against the defendant and the likely sentence after conviction, terms that one should consider long and hard).

4:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I use the "Captain of the Ship" analogy. The client is the Captain, I am only the navigator, I tell them what the map says, they steer. But, Captain goes down with the ship.

I recently did make the decision for a young client who was ready to plead to a very serious charge. We won. He's home. Did I get even a thank you?

1:51 AM  
Blogger ADK-PD said...

My favorite line these days is, "well, if I could hire a REAL lawyer - I wouldn't be in this situation". Gee thanks, I'll just go back to working at McDonald's then....

I hear what you say about the "what should I do" dilemma.... my response is usually, "First of all, I have no financial interest in going to trial or pleading you out - I get paid the same no matter what. A less than up front retained attorney will convince you to go to trial so he/she can bill you more. Second, I like trials, they are fun for me, however if we lose, you go to jail, not me... When all is said and done, I put everything in witting (plea offer, sentence recommendation, Max sentence, etc.) and get client to sign off on it. Then when the inevitable IAC claim arises, I whip out the letter.

1:28 PM  
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1:56 AM  
Anonymous Aussie Pleader said...

Thanks for the post. As an aussie equivalent of a PD I can certainly relate to the issue you raise. most of my clients understand what I am trying to do when i say that it's their decision and, in making it, my role is to help make sure they have their 'eyes open'.

For what that's worth...

9:47 PM  

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