I met with a client last Tuesday at the jail. He's an older Latino man in his late fifties, and he's been here in the U.S. for almost twenty years. Still, his English isn't great, and when we're in the courtroom we use the Spanish interpreter.

But I stopped by to see him at the jail without arranging for an interpreter. His conversational English is okay, I understand a tiny bit of Spanish, and I figured between the two of us we could meet somewhere in the middle with Spanglish.

Besides, as far as his case was concerned, I didn't have anything to tell him. It was a morale visit, I just wanted to check in and see how he was doing. I figured I could handle that in Spanish if I had to.

As we talked, I noticed that the date on his analog watch read, "MAR 7." After we chatted for a few minutes, I mentioned it to him. "I think your watch is wrong. It's April."

He looked at his watch, looked at me, and said, "No, it's okay."

I thought maybe he didn't understand. So, I tried again in my dismal Spanish, pointing to his watch. "Tu reloj. Dice marzo, pero ahora es abril."

"Oh, okay, you fix it then?" He took off his watch and slid it to me through the bars.

"Sure, I'll fix it." Sometimes I set my father's watch for him. I was confident I could figure it out.

As we continued to talk, I tried to adjust the watch. First, I changed the time by accident. I had to consult my watch, then turn his watch back to the right time.

Then I found that I could push the dial halfway in to adjust the day and date. As I turned it, the date changed to "LUN 6" then "DOM 5." What???

Then I realized that the watch was in Spanish. And "MAR" didn't stand for March or Marzo, but for Martes, or Tuesday. Why didn't they teach me about this in the many, many years of Spanish classes I took? I didn't even realize there were Spanish language watches. I mean, it makes sense now, but I had never really thought about Spanish watches before. I wonder where you buy them here in the U.S.

Anyway, I felt kind of silly, handing the watch back to my client, set exactly the same as it had been when he handed it to me.

But he looked at it, smiled kindly, and said "Yes, yes, much better, thank you," and put it back on his wrist.

Which left me thinking that he was a really nice client.

Obviously, it doesn't take much to impress me when it comes to clients.


  1. I love that story. It's pretty generous of him to want help you save face. Thanks for sharing.

    This story made me think about the relationships that defense attorneys form with their clients--particularly PDs, who don't have the issue of fees getting in the way of their relationships with clients. I'm especially interested in the dynamic between female attorneys and their clients.

    As I've said in the past, I'm a prosecutor. I work in a courthouse with a group of about 15-20 regular PDs and the occasional private counsel. I see the same people ever day and I have a good working relationship with many of my counterparts. Just like I'm sure defense attorneys do for us, we tend to notice defense attorney's "types"--the true believers, the pragmatists, the worker bee, etc.

    Anyway, I've noticed that a couple of the younger female public defenders are surprisingly emotionally invested in some of their clients. Not in an sexual way or anything, but they're so invested that after a bad sentencing or probation review hearing, they have a hard time getting out of the courtroom without crying.

    I'm not talking about cases that are extraordinary; these are pretty run of the mill cases and hearings. And it's pretty clear that the tears aren't a reaction to losing, because it usually corresponds to the defendants for whom they've shared with me a long, detailed story.

    These attorneys are all ones that I would characterize as "true believers," but plenty of the true believers I work with seem to keep some emotional distance from their clients.

    I get invested in my cases and connect with victims, but I don't know how those ladies function. It seems exhausting. Is this something unique to female attorneys? Young attorneys?

  2. I used to have a watch that had bilingual days of the week---the day-of-week wheel had 14 positions alternating English and Spanish. When you set the date, you just advanced it to the correct day of the week in the language you wanted. Every night it would advance two positions to get to the next day. It got a little confusing if I happened to glance at it as it was passing the Spanish day.

  3. Hahahaha..that's awesome!

    Actually I know this because my watch has each day of the week in BOTH English and French! So it switches between "TUE" and "MAR" for Tuesday. It's a pain switching it because I have to go through twice as many days.

  4. I can't even begin to express in words what kind of warm fuzzies this post gives me!