Yo Ho Yo Ho The Pirate’s Life For Me

In a recent discussion amongst criminal-defense lawyers about the murder of the Kaufman County District Attorney, and whether we would represent the person charged with the murder (assuming that anyone ever is—my bet is that the murderers will never get caught, though a patsy may be), one of the brethren predicted that whoever took the case would have her phones tapped; her medical records searched; and whatever else the Texas Rangers could think of done to her, including drugs being planted in her car. His point was that a lawyer should not take this case because it might be the lawyer’s last case.

I was dumbfounded. Still am. I don’t think his predictions are remotely near the truth, but even if they are that should not be sufficient to scare a criminal-defense lawyer off a case.

You don’t become a criminal-defense lawyer to be loved by society, or to please the government.

You do it expecting…no, perversely hoping to make powerful enemies.

The Relationship Card

There were probably criminal-defense lawyers before me who marketed themselves as never having been prosecutors—who made a virtue, in the minds of potential clients, of a lawyer never having put people in prison. It’s marketing with the truth—helping the public understand that “former prosecutor” does not mean “good defense lawyer.”

Recently a potential client and I talked about how the other lawyers he was considering were trying to sell themselves to him. They were bidding against each other, and then calling him out of the blue to cut their fees, reducing their fees below what I thought it would cost to do a half-decent investigation of the case. I pointed out to them that the beginning of the month, when bills are due, is a great time to shop for a criminal-defense lawyer because those who don’t manage their affairs well will cut their fees to get the cash flow in. He felt turned off by their efforts to sell him, especially with the price cuts (which seemed desperate to him).

Nothing succeeds like success. Conversely, nothing fails like desperation. A criminal-defense lawyer’s attitude, when confronted with a potential new client, should be, “I am interested in your case, and I would like to help you. I have no idea what kind of results we will get, but I will do everything I can to beat your case. Here’s what it’s going to cost you, and if you can’t afford me, then please excuse me because I have clients who need my attention.” 

The potential client (in the end he couldn’t afford me) was interested in another lawyer’s claim of friendship with the prosecutor on his case. “Does that help?” He wanted to believe. I revealed to him The Truth About Relationships, and his eyes grew wide with understanding.

Here is The Truth About Relationships. May it spread even farther and wider than the Truth About Former Prosecutors:

When a person hires a lawyer because of the lawyer’s relationship with the prosecutor, he assumes that the prosecutor will cut the person a break for the sake of that relationship. Cutting the client a break for the sake of the relationship with the lawyer would be selling out the client (the State); that could happen.

But it’s at least as likely that the defense lawyer will sell out her client for the sake of the relationship with the prosecutor as that the prosecutor will sell out his client for the sake of the relationship with the defense lawyer. The prosecutor has represented his client for years; the defense lawyer has represented hers for weeks.

By offering her relationship with the prosecutor as a selling point to the potential client, the defense lawyer has said that lawyers sell out their clients for friendship, and that she is friends with someone who would do so. Since birds of a feather flock together, the client can safely assume that the defense lawyer also would sell out a client for the sake of the same friendship.

Your potential lawyer has a 20-year friendship with the prosecutor. She has, so far, a thirty-minute relationship with you. If she has to choose between those two relationships, which will she choose?

Better by far to hire the lawyer for whom—and for whose friends on the other side—compromising the client’s interests for the sake of friendship is not an option.