It happens now and then. As I was leaving the courtroom, just after some small victory on some everyday case, a person comes up to me.
"Hey, can you be my lawyer?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, it doesn't work that way. I can only take the cases that are assigned to me."
"Well, how do I get assigned to you? 'Cause you real good."
"Well, how can I get my case assigned to you? Because my lawyer's real bad. She never shows up..." or "...she never calls me back..." or "...I don't even know who she is."
I try to make peace. I say, "She's probably stuck in another courtroom, just like I'm stuck here right now and my other clients are wondering where I am. We have a lot of clients and it's hard to be in more than one place at once."
Or, I say, "Well, do you have her phone number? Have you tried calling her? Do you leave messages? Do you include a phone number so she can call you back?"
Or, I say, "Come with me, I'll show you how to find out your lawyer's name and phone number."
Today, though, one of them said one of the most annoying lines I hear, "My lawyer, she doesn't even want to hear what I'm trying to say. She's against me."
And of course, I've heard it before. In fact, I've been accused of being "against" a few of my clients.
But what does this mean? From everything that I've heard, I've figured out that it can mean anything from "my lawyer doesn't believe my story" to "my lawyer has bad news for me."
So, I had to ask. "What does that mean?"
"Well, I tell her I want to go to trial, and she starts telling me all the evidence they're going to put against me."
"I would do the same thing if I was your lawyer. You can't go into battle without knowing what kind of weapons your opponent has. You don't want to bring a knife to a gunfight. So, you need to know what kind of evidence they're going to have to know whether or not you have a good chance to fight it."
"But it's all lies!"
It amuses me that clients think that means something. Sure, people are going to lie in court. Or be mistaken. In fact, if you have two sides presenting contrary evidence, one side has to be lying or mistaken. Sometimes it's possible to "prove" that someone is lying, but this usually requires having more information than the liar. Which is hard to do when your client won't or can't tell you what happened.
But would you really want to go to trial without your lawyer first telling you what kind of evidence is going to be used against you? Is it just going to be testimony? Is there going to be some kind of scientific evidence too?
Buit it happens a lot, not just in the trial context. I give my client bad news, such as "Unless you've got a few thousand for bail, you're not getting released," and they say, "Why you working against me?"
But bad news is just bad news sometimes. Don't shoot the messenger.
If you went to the doctor and he said, "I'm sorry, but if you don't get this surgery, you'll die," you wouldn't say, "You're just working against me!" You'd engage in a conversation. You'd say, "Ok, why?" "What's wrong?" or maybe even, "Are there other doctors that would be able to cure me without surgery?"
So, how do I convince my clients of this? How do I convince them that when I give them bad news (you're not getting released, you don't have a good shot at trial), I'm not just working against them?
Because I think what happens is that once I give them the bad news, they shut down and stop listening. And then I can pose all the doctor analogies I want, but they're just not listening. I suppose I could start the other way, before I even mention bad news I could say, "When a doctor gives a patient bad news, it doesn't mean the doctor doesn't like the patient or doesn't want the patient to get better..." But I think most of my clients would stop listening at the words "bad news" and start shouting "You're just working against me!" And some of my clients don't need the analogy, some of them know them know the bad news is coming, and know that it's not my fault. So, it would be a waste of time to start every piece of bad news (and believe me, I deliver plenty of it) with a little "don't blame the messenger" preface.
But what about the other ones? Anyone have any suggestions? Yes, I realize it comes with the territory, and I should get used to it (I already have, basically) but I'd like to hear if anyone else, particularly more experienced criminal defense attorneys, have a tack they like to take.