Every now and then, I will get a client that finds his way to the law library inside the Cook County Jail. I've never been inside this library. I don't even know where it is. But I will assume it's like most law libraries. There's books of case law. Statutes. Treatises. Digests.
I have had a couple of clients that found case law that helped me prior to a motion hearing. I am not afraid to admit I don't know everything or have read every case on any given topic. Thus, in a few instances, the extra help was appreciated.
On the other hand, more often than not, the client begins to think he is also a lawyer. This causes a lot of problems. It forces me to spend huge amounts of time explaining why they are wrong about issues pertaining to their case. I sometimes get letters from clients laying out some legal theory that has no basis in the law. And then I have to spend an hour writing a reply letter correcting them. I suppose it's part of the job.
Clients do not know the rules of evidence. They don't seem to understand why an affidavit from a third person explaining that the client is innocent, cannot pry the jail doors open. They don't understand that lying is one thing, but proving the lie is something all together different. They assume people will testify truthfully. Only we in the business know perjury is as common in the courtroom as snow is in Alaska. You can't seem to have one without the other.
I can only imagine how frustrating it must be sitting in the county jail for months on end fighting a case. Is it unreasonable for a client to think they might be able to help their plight by a few trips to the law library? I guess not, though it's incredibly naive. If all it took was going to a law library to become a lawyer, most lawyers would be terrible in practice.
Of course, when the client creates a litigation plan, it's typically shared with the family too. Mothers and wives call me to find out when I will be putting this new plan in to action. Now not only do I have to correct the client, I have to correct the family as well. In some of my cases, I have spent more time teaching the law than actually practicing it. And it's very frustrating. No one seems to understand that credible testimony alone can be enough to prove up an entire case.
But no gun was found on my husband when arrested, so how can he be charged with armed robbery with a firearm? If there's no gun, there's no case. You can beat this, right? This one comes up a lot. Very few armed robbers are caught in the act or immediately afterwards. Most are taken into custody weeks or months later. It's hard for some to understand that if the jury or judge finds there was a gun, there was a gun. End of story.
I once had a client who wasn't being allowed to access the library. When he and I were before the judge, I mentioned the problem. I asked the judge to sign an order that I would draft mandating my client's access to the library. The judge looked up at me, smiled and said "Is Mr. Defendant now your co-counsel?" I smiled back, "no, judge. He is not."
The client clearly had other ideas. By the next court date he had assembled an impressive collection of legal nonsense and had crafted a defense that wasn't a defense. It was suicide. His well-crafted plan for trying his case was sure to end him with a 12-15 year prison sentence. The case was a dog. Absolute dog.
In the end I was able to convince him to take a negotiated plea deal and a 3 year prison sentence, of which he would serve about 13 months. Apparently, this client must have also studied for the Bar exam too because was able to craft a civil complaint and sue me for malpractice while in prison. This man had the worst criminal background of anyone I have represented. That is saying a lot. On this 13th felony, he got 13 months in prison and still sued me for malpractice. No good deed goes unpunished.
Fortunately, unlike most criminal defense lawyers, I carry malpractice insurance. My carrier hired a civil attorney to represent me and the case has been dismissed. This whole ordeal left a really foul taste in my mouth. It cost time and money. I am sure my insurance premium will go up next year. And for what?
Because a non-lawyer thought he knew the law better than his lawyer. From here on out, I am going to cringe when a client informs me he's been to the law library. Rarely does anything good come from it. Please let the lawyers be the lawyers.
When we need co-counsel, we'll ask.