Heartbreak and Frustration

I recently sat in on a new client interview that another attorney was conducting.

The potential client was a young man, 17 years old. The young man was wearing some kind of fancy polo shirt, probably from Abercrombie. And you could probably sell his jeans and buy a round of drinks for a whole bunch of public defenders. He was already on probation for one offense, had already had one probation violation, and had just been arrested with a new charge.

His father, who accompanied him, has some kind of upper class job and upper class life. Accountant or stock broker or something, if I had to guess. Probably drives a BMW or Mercedes or maybe a Porsche.

But I think Dad was genuinely concerned for his son. There really is a possibility that he could face a probation violation and go to jail, regardless of what happens on the new case. And I also think that Dad was genuinely perplexed about why his son continued to get in trouble.

Finally, the part of the interview came when the attorney talked about the legal fees involved in the case. Dad whipped out his check book and started writing without blinking. And as he wrote out the check, he said quietly to his son, "This is coming out of your allowance."

(Allowance? Really? Do 17 year-olds really get an allowance? I was shocked.)

But I was more shocked when the young man replied to his father, "Fuck you, dad, whatever."

Anyone here think Dad should still be perplexed about why this little brat keeps getting arrested? I can only hope, for his sake, that he's better behaved around his P.O. than around his own father.

But, the more that I thought about, the more I felt really bummed. I can think of so many public defender juvenile clients that I represented who would be elated to have a father who would show up to accompany them to a lawyer's office or to court or maybe just put food on the table, never mind buying them fancy clothes, giving them an allowance, or dropping a few thousand bucks on a lawyer. Maybe a father who could just give them a few bucks for bus fare, so that they wouldn't get arrested for fare evasion in the first place. It wouldn't take much.

I spent the rest of the day thinking these thoughts. Like some kind of Criminal Defense Lawyer Robin Hood. Like, maybe Wealthy Dad's money would've been better spent supporting The Fresh Air Fund and making his spoiled son get a job.

Or maybe Dad could've paid me the kids allowance a year ago and I could've taken this little ingrate on a jail visit and show him what his father is trying to help him avoid. My own little Blonde Justice Scared Straight program.

But mostly I just feel kind of sad and frustrated.


  1. So are you missing the PD's office yet? i wonder if daddy and the judge are members of the same yachting club?

  2. The feelings you describe are among those I had when I left my private practice and became a PD for life 15 years ago. I am both poorer and richer as a result, in exactly the ways you would expect.

  3. Sadly, I saw this in private practice and later as a college professor. Back in my day, my parents probably would have smacked me right there in front of the attorney. (Not that I advocate that kind of thing). But, I would have NEVER said something like that.

    Allowance at 17? No way. How about a job. How about making the kid earn the money for the attorney.

  4. Man, so many of your posts make me so sad.
    I have to stop reading your blog right before I go to bed.

  5. Ugh, what an ungrateful little schmuck. Maybe a little tour of the local jail courtesy of Blonde Justice would be just the cure for his attitude problem.

  6. Blonde,

    Great post.

    If the person paying whips out his checkbook and starts writing without blinking, the fee you've quoted is too small. Unfortunately, at that point it's usually too late to make an adjustment (unless you can add "per case" to your price quote). Paying for a lawyer in a criminal case should hurt a little bit.

    I believe it's okay for a criminal defense lawyer to correct a kid who's rude to his parent (or, for that matter, a parent who's rude to his kid). To these folks, a lawyer is a tradesman; if Junior treats his dad like shit, how's he going to treat the lawyer?

    Finally, I subscribe to the Karl Marx theory of criminal defense: from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs; Dad should have had to pay enough to adquately fund the next couple of pro bono cases the lawyer wanted to take.

  7. I agree with you and at the same time my first thought was, "Oh, I wonder what's really going on in that home?" Sure, the dad seems awesome in front of the attorney. If he has that kind of white collar job where you learn to hide your true self (which, um, is every white collar job), then you know how to hide your true self in front of an attorney. Just like the kids in your PD practice were often neglected and probably abused, you have to wonder what's going on behind the allowance and the externalities of privilege with this kid. The entire thing makes me sad, both for the reasons you said and because there is probably so much more that we don't realize.

  8. Sometimes its just a simple, The kid is a spoiled little punk as* brat who will never appreciate what he has until its gone. Sometimes.

  9. I know what you mean, given that I'm making the same change. I care more about my clients who are wonderful but struggling people whose families have scraped to pay for an attorney. Still, since my firm covers non-criminal matters, too, I've been able to enjoy dealing with clients on a regular basis on a variety of issues without the possibility of anyone going to jail, which helps my mood a lot. So far I've enjoyed all my new criminal clients, but so far I haven't encountered anything as horrific as you just described.

    But when it all comes down to it, your client is your client. There's always value in representing someone, no matter what their circumstances. At least, that's what I always told myself as a PD. I'm trying to learn that it works in private practice, too.

  10. Not just, "He has an allowance?", but "He has an allowance big enough that it's possible to take a few thousand out?"


  11. At my most lucrative, I got 10 dollars a week in allowance money. The chores I did to earn it were not voluntary. The allowance didn't come when times were tough.

    I would rather die than say something like that to my Dad.

  12. At 17 I still got an allowance. My mother did not believe in high school students working during the school year, she wanted me to focus on my studies. My allowance was $20 and I got it only if I cleaned the whole hoouse: vacuuming, dusting, cleaning 3 bathrooms, the kitchen, etc. I know that when she had a cleaning lady clean the house they got paid a lot more (our house was rather large). But I would have never had "thousands" of dollars to take out of my allowance.

  13. I also agree with one of the posters above about how you never know what is going on at home. I used to have a couple rich spoiled brat friends whose parents were more than happy to whip out a checkbook to make their children's problems go away (and more importantly to protect their image). They never considered that failing to know who their kids friends were, knowing where their kids were at, setting curfews and enforcing them, and otherwise holding their children responsible for their actions was the reason their kids were getting into trouble in the first place. That would require "parenting" and "involvement," something these parents saw as taking them away from their personal/professional aspirations. I'm sure it is much easier to write out a check than be a parent. I bet that kid says F You to his dad because he gets away with it. I understand that it is harder to feel sorry for a rich kid who has more than you, but that doesn't mean they are rich in love and emotional support.

  14. Blonde J, look at it this way. When you were a PD you would rep guys that were clearly bangers, thugs, racists, etc. You took their cases because everybody deserves a good defense, right? Even racists and thugs. Or were all your clients misunderstood angels? ;) Well turns out that spoiled brats deserve lawyers, too. They are generally harder to stomache than thugs, I'll grant you that. That's why we make them (or Daddy) pay.

    Keep your chin up, there are good and bad clients everywhere.

  15. You wrote:

    "I can think of so many public defender juvenile clients that I represented who would be elated to have a father who would show up to accompany them to a lawyer's office."

    I wonder if dad is really such a good guy. Your client clearly has serious problems that are practically unheard of for kids that young from wealthy famlies. You put a good spin on dad, but something smells fishy, I think dad may not be such a super dad outside of the law office. At the very least he is using his money to make up for years of neglect. But, I suspect something more sinister, I think he is using his money to make up for years of abuse.

    The kid, who told his dad to fuck off isn't going to let his dad buy him off. The sad thing is the kid is ruining his life at such a young age.

  16. Post bar pd clerk - wish me luck!October 22, 2007 3:12 PM

    A distant in-law-relative of mine gets in quite a bit of serious trouble. His family is rich and I have no trouble imagining a similar father/son/attorney scenario going on in that family.

    Sure, the kid I know is spoiled. But if he doesn't stop taking horse tranqs or whatever then he'll be almost as screwed as the rest of our clients until the day they let him out of prison - 8 to 15 years later. (I mean, how much can care packages really help when you're in prison? Sure maybe you get a nice TV and some magazines or something, but a kid like this will get himself stuck in the hole in pretty short order anyway.)

    Sure, it's easier I guess to sympathize with the meek and downtrodden, but some of these rich kids have a long and painful way to fall before they wake up and start turning things around. It's hard not to see some level fo tragedy and humanity in a situation like this.

    RE, malum's post: BJ - I hadn't realized you had moved into private practice. I guess I have some back blog post reading to do!

  17. I can almost promise that this is the scenario: Dad is almost never home and when he is, he is verbally and emotionally abusive. The only reason he is with his son now is because, for his own image's sake, he needs to keep his kid out of jail and ultimately into a Goldman Sachs office. The son understands that his dad is here now, but was not at a single baseball game, because his dad has an image to protect.

  18. or the kid is just an overprivileged jerk whose parents have always bailed him out so he's never felt the real, urgent fear of the possible repercussions of his actions. a 17 year old kid who tells his dad to fuck off in front of other people while his dad is writing (yet another) check to get him out of trouble is likely not afraid of reprisal at home. he is bulletproof, until they slam those cell doors shut when he gets into trouble mommy and daddy can't buy him out of. it will probably be the best thing for him.

  19. A lawyer has a duty to zealously and effectively represent his client. Coversations between an attorney and his client in the presence of third parties may also compromise confidential communications. A parents rights to be informed concerning confidential communications are limited unless the client consents. There is a danger that a savy prosecutor can subpoena a third party not covered by confidentiality or the third party may turn on the parties and disclose confidential communications. The parent may be entitled to hire independent legal counsel for themselves should they require it. The primary duties of the lawyer involve the legal defenses and the mitigating factors surrounding the offense. It is too easy to get distracted by other things.
    A lawyer that becomes too judgemental, too emotional, or too preachy runs the risk of offending the parties or possibly stepping outside proper boundaries. A professional counselor might be in a better position to provide truly independent effective counseling.
    I have in the past made a judgemental preachy type statement which may be a natural human response but in hindsight may have been better phrased something along the lines that professional counseling may assist you and the court in this matter.
    Yours in the Defense of Fellow Human Beings,
    Glen R. Graham --- http://www.glenrgraham.com