I’ve got a bone to pick with you

What is it about our job that attracts some terrible lawyers? I mean, some of them are just unbelievably awful. You know the type – promise the moon, don’t even deliver some cheese. “Take this deal; I’ll get you out tomorrow.” “Don’t worry, they won’t convict you”. “If you take this offer, I can’t help you.” “I don’t represent snitches.” “Give me more money or I won’t go to court for you.”

The false promises part really pisses me off. You know there are attorneys who make them but then when the client gets screwed, will swear up and down that they would never, ever say something like that. Bullshit. Half the inmate population can’t be lying. Maybe they didn’t say it exactly as the client said they did, but they made some ridiculous promise. Why do they do it? Prestige? Wanting the client to like you? Why is it so damn difficult for attorneys to say: “Sorry, I couldn’t do any better” or “Man, I screwed up.”

Be honest with the client. Please. It’s about them, not you.

9 thoughts on “I’ve got a bone to pick with you

  1. Scott Greenfield

    Thanks for saying what every good lawyer wants to say. This is a plague, and our reluctance to deal with this has hurt everyone. Incompetence and deception are pervasive, and it is a disgrace.

    SHG

    Reply
  2. S.cotus

    Some of these comments might be a bit out of context:

    Take this deal; I’ll get you out tomorrow: This might be true. While it offends my sense of justice, this is often the only way for people to terminate criminal incarceration. There are many circumstances where it is based on a good-faith belief and understanding of local law.

    Don’t worry, they won’t convict you: This is a prediction. It could be based on reliable assumptions. In some cases, lawyers know the way judges think so well, they know what they will convict and acquit on.

    If you take this offer, I can’t help you: Stating that a defense lawyer can be of minimal assistance to someone that pleads guilty is hardly “bad” advocacy.

    I don’t represent snitches: This can be viewed two ways. The first is that someone chooses not to represent informants. This is a complex issue of professional responsibility. I don’t think that this is unethical per se. After all, it is conceivable that an attorney has moral problems with the “snitching” process. (And, as some have pointed out, the use of CIs might actually contribute to a decline in public safety and false convictions.) It could also be taken as a strategic view that one should not assist a client in cooperating with the government. While I don’t favor this view, some have argued that it is defensible in some jurisdictions because the government has put CIs in danger.

    Give me more money or I won’t go to court for you: Probably unethical.

    Reply
  3. Melissa

    John Wesley Hall, Jr., who is an esteemed and highly decorated criminal defense lawyer, (he’s also the guy who argued Wilson v. Arkansas doesn’t represent snitches so I’m not sure that is necessarily the work of a bad lawyer.

    Reply
  4. Gideon Post author

    [quote comment=”2354″]Some of these comments might be a bit out of context:

    Take this deal; I’ll get you out tomorrow: This might be true. While it offends my sense of justice, this is often the only way for people to terminate criminal incarceration. There are many circumstances where it is based on a good-faith belief and understanding of local law.

    Don’t worry, they won’t convict you: This is a prediction. It could be based on reliable assumptions. In some cases, lawyers know the way judges think so well, they know what they will convict and acquit on.

    If you take this offer, I can’t help you: Stating that a defense lawyer can be of minimal assistance to someone that pleads guilty is hardly “bad” advocacy.

    I don’t represent snitches: This can be viewed two ways. The first is that someone chooses not to represent informants. This is a complex issue of professional responsibility. I don’t think that this is unethical per se. After all, it is conceivable that an attorney has moral problems with the “snitching” process. (And, as some have pointed out, the use of CIs might actually contribute to a decline in public safety and false convictions.) It could also be taken as a strategic view that one should not assist a client in cooperating with the government. While I don’t favor this view, some have argued that it is defensible in some jurisdictions because the government has put CIs in danger.

    Give me more money or I won’t go to court for you: Probably unethical.[/quote]My problem with the first “promise” is that often times, attorneys can’t get the clients out before the end of their term and promise it anyway, just so they take the deal. If they promise it, I’d like to see some follow-up and at least confirmation that the promise was indeed made.

    To the second point you raise; it’s one thing to give an opinion based on the evidence you think the state has; another to assure the client that he should not take the deal because the State “has nothing”. If such assurances are given, they should be document and based on actual facts and knowledge of the case, after investigation. Even then, I’m not so sure I’d ever say something like that.

    The third point, I wasn’t as clear as I should have been. There are lawyers that will not effectively negotiate with the state for plea offers and there are lawyers that will not go to trial. I think by precluding either of the options you are shortchanging your client.

    [quote comment=”2358″]John Wesley Hall, Jr., who is an esteemed and highly decorated criminal defense lawyer, (he’s also the guy who argued Wilson v. Arkansas doesn’t represent snitches so I’m not sure that is necessarily the work of a bad lawyer.[/quote]

    As to the snitching issue; I guess that’s a personal preference, but I have a huge problem with it. Our jobs are to zealously defend our clients against charges levied by the State. If your client has information that would help him get a fairer sentence, then why would you not use that? I agree as the safety issue; it should be carefully considered. I don’t like the blanket position, though.

    Reply
  5. Scott Greenfield

    I was less concerned with parsing the examples than I was with the big picture. Chipping away at the edges does not undermine the basic idea. It tends to distract us from the unpleasant reality and divert attention from the real problem.

    If you’re going to argue that too many lawyers do not use deception and manipulation to first score cases, then dispose of them, then say that. But don’t make up excuses, rationalizations or explanations for them. Lying to clients is lying. Don’t wag the dog.

    Reply
  6. S.cotus

    See, what is strange, is I don’t think that representing “snitches” is a matter of personal preference.

    I think that lawyers have a duty to do what is absolutely best for their clients unless doing that things is completely against their principles, in which case they should become a carnie. I have not fully resolved the “snitch” issue in my mind, yet, but I know that good, effective, and ethical lawyers differ on it. Some of these differences are based on personal experience (as in, a client was killed after snitching), some are based on policy views (as in, allowing a client to snitch, discourages the police from trying hard), and others are based on more classical reasons (as in, it is “us” v. the government).

    I think the word “promise” is subject to a lot of misconstruction and misinterpretation. When lawyers make predictions, often non-lawyers view them was warranties. So, if I say “I am pretty sure that X will happen…” it is pretty much akin to a weatherman saying “I promise it will be sunny tomorrow.” This really means “based on my training and experience (like the cops are told to say) X will happen.”

    Whether the lawyer has “actual facts” or “documented” issues requires more knowledge of the case. I will note that in some jurisdictions (or rather some courtrooms) going to trial and getting an acquittal is easier and, of course, more effective, then getting a case dismissed. In fact, some PD agencies instruct their lawyers (appearing before certain judges) to take their clients to trial if the charging document is insufficient, simply because it keeps the state from trying again.

    Mr. Greenfield, Like it or not, being a lawyer is about detail and nuance. Sure, it is nice to post on a blog about the “big picture” (heck, I do it), but what pays the bills, puts food on the table, and provides individual clients with justice (amazing how I can do all this stuff at once) is understanding the law and facts at a high level of detail. Lawyers generally do not evaluate a case without knowing specifics – and a lot of them – and nobody is claiming that the above phrases were uttered without knowledge of the applicable law and facts.

    Reply
  7. Pingback: Should we be selective? Part II | a public defender

  8. Pingback: Selective representation | a public defender

  9. Pingback: Snitching: Here we go again | a public defender

Leave a Reply