When I arraign a new client, the first thing I do is get a file. It usually doesn't have too much information - the charges, a very short factual account, my client's rap sheet, whether or not they have any outstanding warrants, and sometimes some other information about my client - home address (if any), occupation (if any), education level (if any) - but only if they volunteered it.
I take the file, I read through it, and then I go talk to my client, who is held in a pen next to the courtroom.
When I first step in the pen area, I call out my new client's name. They step up to the bars, and I introduce myself.
"Hi, my name is Blonde Justice. I'm a lawyer from the public defender's office. I'm going to be your lawyer." (I started saying the word "lawyer" twice in my standard introduction after too many questions about whether I was an intern, or whether you have to finish law school to be a public defender, or whether after a certain number of years as a public defender I get to be a lawyer, or, worse, a prosecutor.)
And, invariably, immediately, almost all ask, "Am I getting out of here?" Some don't even let me get through my two second introduction, which really annoys me, because as I've said before, I think it's really important for defendants to know their lawyers' names, and how are you going to do that if you don't even listen to me introduce myself? And, further, why are you going to blab to me about your case without knowing that I'm your lawyer? Or, do you just blab to everyone about your case? Oh, wait, I forgot, you do.
Sometimes, especially for kid clients, I even introduce myself, "Hi, my name is Blonde Justice, I'm a lawyer from the public defender's office. I'm going to be your lawyer. What's my name?" Just to see if they're paying attention. A lot of them say, "You didn't tell me!" Ha! And the rest just respond, "Am I getting out of here?"
Instead of asking "Am I getting out of here?" a few new clients get creative, and say, "Give me some good news."
When I first started my job, I only handled misdemeanors, and I would guess that about 75-80% of the time I could give my client the good news that they were definitely going home. The other 20-25% of the time, the client had a warrant or their record was just so bad (and full of prior warrants), that I knew bail would be set. Actually, even if I only suspected bail would be set, I'd rather give my client "the bail speech" than the "you're going home speech" and let them be surprised, and maybe even impressed, when they were released. (Much easier to deal with that than being told you're going home, and getting the opposite surprise.)
Now that I handle felonies and more serious cases, as you'd guess, the percentage of my clients who get to go home is a little bit lower. I'd guess that, right now, for me, it might be 60/40. (On the other hand, there are some attorneys who handle the most serious cases and pretty much all of their clients have bail set.)
Often, now, when I get my client's file, the papers make them out to look pretty bad. And I just hope that there is something that's not in the papers that will give me something to work with. Unless my client has something great to say (I always imagine it will be "I know it's not in the papers, but I should have mentioned that I won a Nobel Peace Prize last year," but I would even accept, "Look, I got into a drug program, and here's some documentation and the name of my caseworker,") they're not going anywhere.
So, finally, this week, I had a revelation and tried a new introduction.
"Hi, my name is Blonde Justice, I'm a lawyer from the public defender's office. I'm going to be your lawyer. Give me some good news."
My new client just stood there, looking at me, stunned and confused. (At least I knew he was listening.) And then, finally, he said, "Aren't you supposed to give me the good news?"
"No, not unless you give me some good news first."
Yes, I think that may become my new standard introduction to the clients who aren't otherwise going home.