My Clients' Other Lawyers

Some of my clients have other lawyers. Maybe they have an immigration lawyer. Maybe they've got some kind of custody or child support issue, and they've got a lawyer for that. Maybe they're getting evicted or they're suing the police or they have a workers' compensation case and they have another lawyer for that.

If my client knows their name (and you'd be surprised how many times my clients don't know the name of a person they hired), and I have my client's permission to tell their other lawyer about the criminal case, I'll usually give the lawyer a call. Not necessarily to exchange information (unless the two matters are somehow related), but usually just to set up a line of communication.

I usually just want to leave a message that says, "Hi, my name is Blonde Justice from the public defender's office, I'm calling to let you know that I represent your client, Mr. Client, in a criminal matter. I'd appreciate it if you could keep me up-to-date if there's anything that I need to know about your case, and I'll do the same." And I leave my phone number.

If the cases are related (for example, the other attorney is suing the police for brutality arising from the same arrest that led to my case), we might need to coordinate more. If it's more tangential than that (my clients' immigration attorney, for example), I'd probably call again before my client takes any plea, and I'd expect a phone call before my client went into any sort of immigration hearing where he'd be asked about my case or if any sort of deportation action was taken.

Other than that, I might never hear from the other attorney again. And I may have no reason to call again. I'm busy, and I expect that other attorneys are too.

And that's why it absolutely amazes me that one of my client's other lawyers, the one handling her eviction, leaves me ten messages a day. As does every other member of his staff. I'M BUSY! NOTHING HAS HAPPENED SINCE YOU CALLED ME TEN MINUTES AGO! LEAVE ME ALONE!

And it's hard, because it is an attorney. And his secretary. And his paralegal.

If it were a client, it'd be easier for me to say, "Look, I've got a hundred clients. I'll take whatever time you need to help you with whatever you need. But I just can't speak to you ten times a day. I promise I'll call you if I have any news in your case. I promise that I'm working on (whatever I'm working on). But I won't have time to work on that if you're calling ten times a day."

But this is a lawyer. And he's completely stupid. He constantly amazes me with his stupidity. Sometimes I just listen to his messages and then just sit back and think, "Wow, they let people like that be lawyers," and it amazes me.

Why am I so amazed? Well, our mutual client is in jail. Like it or not, there she will sit until either (a) she pays bail or (b) she has a trial and wins. There's no get-out-of-jail offer on the table, and the trial is set for this month. All I can do at this point is prepare for trial. And, it stinks that she's in jail, and there's really no nice way to say this, but that's what happens when you get arrested for the same thing four times in a month, have very little community ties, and can't afford bail.

So, first, this lawyer called and left me messages a few times a day asking if I know where my client is. I called and left one message in response, stating the name of the jail where she is held. I also explained when the trial date is, and that, because she is unlikely to come up with bail money, she will be in jail at least until the trial date.

The messages continued, repeatedly stating, "Hi, This is Mr. Lawyer, Miss Client's housing court lawyer. I was just calling to see if you were able to get Miss Client out of jail yet. Could you please call me back and let me know if she's out of jail yet?"

I sit there, listening to these messages, and screaming at my phone, "WHAT? ARE YOU TELLING ME SHE DIDN'T GET THE FILE I SNUCK TO HER?" No, I shouldn't even joke like that. But how else would I get her out of jail?

I did not call back. I really saw no reason to repeat myself. One day, though, I made the mistake of answering the phone and it was this lawyer calling. He asked again if I had gotten Miss Client out of jail yet. And I said, no, because the trial date that I already told you about hasn't come yet, and Miss Client hasn't been able to make bail.

And then he asked me, "But, can't you pay her bail?"

Whoa. Really? You're really really a lawyer? I am not kidding you, after that phone call, I called the state bar and confirmed that this man is, indeed a lawyer. And the number he is calling me from is, in fact, his law office. And I'm the one who is compared to a "real" lawyer? Unbelievable.

So, I regained my composure eventually, and responded, "No, I'm not allowed to pay bail for any of my clients. I'm happy to call my client's families and encourage them to pay the bail, but, unfortunately, Miss Client either doesn't have anyone she wants contacted, or she doesn't want to tell me who they are."

And the lawyer stated, "But, this has to be unconstitutional or something. They can't really hold someone without a trial, can they?"

Hmmm... well, I'm pretty sure that it's right there in the Constitution. But, absolutely without sarcasm, and giving this lawyer all of the benefit of the doubt I could muster up, I said, "I really don't think I could convince any judge that the bail is excessive in this case."

Hint, hint, "bail... excessive." Excessive bail? Is this ringing a bell at all?

And, honest to goodness, he responded, "Yeah, but they can't just hold someone without a trial. Isn't she presumed innocent?"

Alright, alright, I'll cut the sarcasm. The truth is, I don't know crap about housing law. And if my client had a housing issue and I called a housing attorney outraged at what I perceived to be an unfair situation, I might come across sounding naive or downright stupid.

But housing law isn't in the Constitution! Housing law isn't on every bar exam in the country! They don't make, I don't know, half the TV shows during prime time about housing law! If they did, maybe I'd know some of the basics. Take some time off from calling me and watch an episode of Law & Order, for crying out loud! Or the nightly news!

It's funny, because for a while, I had thought about calling back and saying, "Look, it's obvious from your last twenty messages that you're very concerned about Miss Client. You're certainly welcome to take Miss Client's criminal case if you think that would be easier than trying to coordinate..." But, now I realize that would be a huge disservice to my client.

So, my clients' other lawyers may have now replaced my clients' girlfriends, wives, and baby mommas as my biggest annoyance.


  1. Oh my god, how did he pass the bar?! I'm guessing there wasn't an essay on criminal law when he took it...

  2. As a law student and future bar-taking, I'm oddly comforted by this post.


  3. i used to be 1 of the annoying call-leave-a-message-call-leave-a-message types, but it was a little different. i'm not a lawyer, i'm a paralegal. at the time i was advocating for inmates, mostly about health & mental health problems. i didn't bother the P.D.s beyond the initial info'mational message, cuz i knew the P.D.s were doing their jobs. but in our jurisdiction we also had attorneys in private practice basically doing indigent defense & having a chip on their shoulder about it & they needed to be pestered or they'd forget about their non-payin' clients. The very few times i got a representative of this class of lawyer to call me back, i definitely did have the "Wow, they let you have a license to practice law?" reaction

  4. Geez, how this guy passed the bar when so many do not is a true mystery of the universe.

  5. Michael D. PrattOctober 03, 2005 3:29 PM

    Oh dear.

    I don't know about where the lawyer comes from, but where I practice, lawyers aren't allowed to fill bonds under the state rules of ethics. I know, because I was unaware of this fact, late one night in a state park when a fellow public defender got himself arrested for public intoxication.

  6. I would think that we could pay bail for someone on a personal level - bailing out a friend, for example.

    But I think bailing out clients is a no-no. Nevermind the fact that I have a few hundred clients a year and I'm broke to begin with.

    There was a recently a case where a lawyer was arrested, and according to the news, she was bailed out by a partner at her firm (who is presumably representing her). That may be getting close to a violation, I guess it depends how the lawyer posted the bail: as her lawyer, or as her friend.

  7. What's most interesting about this story is not that the guys is clueless, I've found many private lawyers clueless on various criminal subjects of which I am better-versed - no biggie. What's amazing is that most people recognize that which they don't understand, and don't attempt jump in full force acting like they really know what's going on, recognizing that they will be exposed as blithering idiots very quickly.

    When I talk to lawyers outside of my expertise, I try to do the most "unlaywerly" thing possible - I listen and let them do the talking as much as possible, and then try to as insightful, open-ended questions that presuppose my ingorance of the subject but tend to elicit information, rather than cross-examine the person on areas that they know far more about than I do. I suspect that this person's failure is less legal than interpersonal.

    Very funny conversation, though, and very close to home. This becuse, of course, the fact that this is the way that most of our clients talk to us, we just don't expect it from other lawyers.