Saturday, March 6, 2010

Criminal Attorneys...Remember

When I was sworn in as a proud member of the Illinois bar, I had to raise my right hand and take an oath. I think the only other time I had to do this was when I enlisted in the military.

I am pretty sure in both instances I swore to uphold the constitution. But the attorney's oath mentioned something about clients. It's hard to be an attorney with no clients, unless you're in-house counsel or work for the government. But for street guys like me, without my clients, I fail to exist. Without my clients, I have no purpose. Without my clients, I am nothing.

Some in my jurisdiction seem to have forgotten the client's interests come before the attorney's. And this really bothers me. I know I am still relatively new and that in another ten years I might be a grumpy-Gus, but for right now I still care about my clients and treat them with respect.

Criminal attorneys are much like trauma surgeons. We are only called when something has gone horribly wrong. Trauma surgeons are highly skilled professionals. Criminal lawyers are supposed to be highly skilled professionals. [I mean no disrespect to other types of doctors and lawyers, everyone plays a part].

People are calling us for help. They should not be talked down to or rudely dismissed because they cannot afford you.

If you are an attorney that promises an outcome before any court appearance, and then blame the judge when you don't deliver, you should be disbarred. Wait, if you're an attorney that promises anything beyond doing your job, you're giving the rest of us a bad name.

If you oversell the merits of your client's case just to be paid trial fees for a case you cannot win, disbarment and 30 days in county. This is also fraudulent as far as I am concerned.

Have you ever sold a guilty plea to your client by making their case seem worse than it is? The prosecutors in my city urge us to do it. I refuse. No way. That's bad business.

And if you are paid trial fees and chose to do a quick bench trial because you're too lazy to prepare for a jury, disbarment and 90 days in county.

Our clients and their families do not understand the business like we do. They will believe almost anything we tell them. If we advise them to plead guilty they will plead guilty. If we tell them a bench trial is the best way to go, they will trust us. That's right, our clients trust us.

This trust is largely based on who we are. Their lawyer. We are supposed to be their representative in a forum where the other party is trying to convict them and possibly incarcerate them. We are all they have in a desperate situation. They need us. Badly.

Sometime try seeing all of this from the client's eyes. What if you were arrested and charged with murder but were innocent. How still would you be able to sit while the system slowly moved your case?

What if you couldn't make bail, how much would you worry? How much would you wonder if your attorney was really on the outside working for you? Could you make it a year or more in the county jail waiting to have your day in court? Could you place the keys to your jail cell in the hands of one person, your lawyer?

If you are in the criminal defense business, your client has something to lose no matter how trivial the case may seem. Whether it's having their driver's license suspended or going to prison for life, most cannot afford to lose. Or if they must lose, it's your job to make that loss as painless as possible. 

Our clients trust us because we are lawyers. Despite all of the lawyer jokes and tasteless television commercials, practicing law is still a very noble profession. Your license to practice is a privilege, not a right.

Think of all of the U.S. Presidents and members of Congress that were and are lawyers. I think being in the same crowd as Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln is something to be very proud of.

Much of the public looks up to us and holds us in high esteem. Thus, the client's trust in us is almost an automatic simply because we hold a license. Do something to deserve it beyond paying you annual bar dues. Don't think for one minute that lasting trust isn't earned by doing more than filling a suit.

All we have is our reputation on the street and our credibility in the courtroom.


1 comment:

  1. Couldn't have said it better myself. I think I have stated on my website that there isn't an attorney out there who can guarantee and outcome, and if they can there is probably a judge and/or prosecutor out there who needs to be disciplined as well. The court room definitely does not have space for arrogant and self-serving attorneys.


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