Keeping score is not something I do as a public defender. I know my “wins”, but there is no tally; there is no scoresheet, no chart. Yet it is something that inevitably comes up once a month when talking to clients. “How many cases have you won?” “Have you tried X type of cases before?”. Essentially, are you good enough to be my lawyer?
People like Bennett, Norm and Scott can legitimately answer that question. Private counsel often have the luxury of choosing their clients. You see a good case, you take it. Case is a deal loser and will require only minimal plea bargaining – you don’t have to waste your time.
For us public defenders, on the other hand, the score wouldn’t represent anything. Our “win-loss” record means as much as it does for a pitcher in baseball: almost nothing. We get what cases we get. We deal with them as best we can.
I don’t mind, really. I know there will be more “losses” than “wins”. As an attorney, more of my clients will go to jail than not. This obviously is not the whole picture. What counts as a win and what counts as a loss? Is every case where the disposition you negotiate better than the client’s expectation a win? What if the client has unrealistic expectations? That’s called a no-win.
What of pleas, which make up the vast majority of the dispositions? Is a suspended sentence a “win”? What about a 3 year sentence when the prosecutor was looking for 5?4?
But again, this doesn’t bother me. I can’t really go into a discussion of the meaning of “win” with a client, so there’s a generic response.
On the other hand, with a paying client, it may not be so easy to brush off. Is it a legitimate question to ask of the private attorney you are about to hire? Does it, in a sense, help the consumer in making an informed decision? Or is it just about building trust between the attorney and the client? If that is the case, should I be answering the question instead of the general “I have plenty of experience”?
Yikes. What started out as a pretty straightforward post has becoming confusing. I don’t know the answer. What do you think?