I haven't had much to write about lately, but one thing came up lately that might be worth writing about.
I got a new client at the beginning of last week. His case is very serious, he is facing a lot of time. And it's not as if he's new to the "system," he's done quite a bit of prison time in the past. Some clients who have done time "get it" - they get what their case is worth, they get how the sentencing guidelines work. Some clients, despite their past, are shocked (or act shocked) that they're going to get jail this time. Really? You got jail time or prison on your last ten arrests, but you really thought you would finally community service or something this time?
Anyway, I met this new client early last week. I told him he was facing time, I told him what I thought I could do to help, I told him what some of his options were, I told him what was likely to happen. I spoke to his family, I did quite a bit of research relevant to his case, I negotiated with the prosecutor again and again.
At the end of the week, I met up with the client again. I told him what I had worked on during the few days since we last saw each other, I told him that I had spoken to his wife, I told him what I had found that might help his case, and I told him what the prosecutor had said which might be bad for his case.
When I got to the bad news, the client was very upset. Which, to some extent, I'm used to. I deliver bad news sometimes, I understand that I'm the messenger.
When a client is upset, there are a few tactics that I usually take to help the situation. One is to try to agree, "Yes, you're right, it's not fair, I get that, but the best thing we can do right now is focus on our next step..." Another is to try to explain the situation and reason with the client, "Look, you did three years on your last drug sale. Now they've caught you again, the prosecutor thinks the sentence has to be more than three years this time. With every arrest, the punishment is probably going to get worse." Sometimes I just sit back and let them vent it out - some people just need to have their say, and they have no one else to say it to. If I sit and listen for five minutes or ten or twenty, they might be able to focus on their case once they get it out of their system.
But with this client, this week, I didn't really have the chance to do any of those things. He was just screaming absolute profanity at me.
And, maybe it was me. Maybe I was overtired and overworked and fighting a cold for a week. Maybe if I was feeling sharper, more on top of my game, I could have talked some sense into him, or waited it out while he vented. But I didn't.
I walked out of the pen, and at the next opportunity, asked the judge to assign a new lawyer to my client. I was upset and exhausted, and I just quit. The judge doesn't know me well yet, but he agreed to assign a new lawyer since it was early in the case.
But getting off the case didn't really make me feel any better. I felt like a quitter. I know what I did was fine ethically, but I know that personally, I could have done better. I felt disappointed in myself.
I know it's not a big deal. In the scheme of things, it's a small percentage of my cases. And I got rid of a difficult client and a serious case. I should have felt good, at least for that. But Friday night, I couldn't sleep, I kept thinking about it. I kept thinking I could have sat back down and said... well, there's probably a lot of things I could have said. I don't know if they would have made a big difference.
I feel like I'm beyond the point in my career where I get upset over things clients say, I think I'm at the point where I can turn any disagreement in a positive direction. And it's not that I couldn't with this client, it's that I didn't make the effort.
Tomorrow is a new day. Tomorrow I will try harder, and do better. That's all I can do.