Selling yourself by trashing others

For some, blogs are a business. For some, it’s a way to grow their business. But if you’re selling yourself, remember to put your best foot forward. Take Wallin & Klarich and their AV rating. They seem like a normal criminal defense firm located in southern Cali. In fact, I gotta say, their website is pretty snazzy. They have video clips, login for clients and a blog!

Ah, now that’s what interests me. A blog. So let’s have a look. How is this firm going to set itself apart? How is this firm going to attract clientele?

Then I read the latest post and it hit me. I’ve read this blog before. Same MO in the four posts I’ve read: shit on public defenders.

Here’s the latest:

Many people call our office asking if they can appeal their case. The people who call often tell us that their loved one, who is in jail, did not get proper representation. We are often told that the defendant’s public defender did not provide adequate legal advise or did not do proper investigation. Defendants are often told that it is in their best interest to enter a guilty plea by their public defender. After a guilty plea is entered the person accused wants to “appeal” their conviction.

Oh. Ouch. “Often told”? Here’s an earlier post:

As a former public defender I have seen first hand the benefits and consequences to letting a public defender handle your case. Although the public defenders are highly skilled and experienced attorneys, they are severely overworked. They carry a caseload of up to 20 clients a day! What this means for their clients is that the public defender cannot afford to spend more than a few minutes on the client’s case before moving on to the next case. If your case happens to need more research or a closer look, it is possible that the public defender will simply not have enough time to do the necessary work.

The Public Defender is so overworked that they often times fail to build a meaningful relationship with their clients; they simply do not have the time. This means that they will not have the time to sit down with you and listen to your side of the story. They also will not have the time to answer your phone calls and questions.

Wrong, wrong, wrong and even wronger and still wrongest. I mean, this is just plain nonsense! Playing up the stereotypes of overworked public defenders to sell yourself is just damn low.

The sad part is that the first post that I linked to has an important message: if you plead guilty, you need a certificate of probable cause if you want to appeal. But all I see in there is shitting on fellow members of the bar – in the same field, no less! The point of that post could have been made just as effectively if the first paragraph had been left out.

Now, I know crime is down and business is slow, but c’mon, this is serious bullshit. Selling yourself by trashing a large number of your fellow practitioners is not nice and it’s not smart. I guarantee that some public defenders in your jurisdiction have read your blog.

Law firm marketing gurus, what say you?

15 thoughts on “Selling yourself by trashing others

  1. Scott Greenfield

    They’ve put a lot of effort put into trying to steal clients from PDs, not the usual way for good lawyers to try to build a clientele. Sad that they need to put PDs down to build themselves up.

    Reply
  2. S.cotus

    playing the devil’s advocate here, I think a lot of their statements are not completely false. It probably isn’t cricket to trash other lawyers.

    Let’s take a look:

    : Defendants are often told that it is in their best interest to enter a guilty plea by their public defender.

    Yes. This is true. Defendants ARE often told that it is in their best interests to plead guilty. In fact, every guilty plea is (or should be) entered into with the advice of counsel, somewhere along the line SOME lawyer told them that they would do better than pleading guilty. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this. Lawyers in criminal practice know what the law, practice, and policy in their jurisdiction are, so a guilty plea generally reflects the fact that one side has better “facts” than the other.

    : As a former public defender I have seen first hand the benefits and consequences to letting a public defender handle your case.

    Nothing wrong with this. He says there are “benefits” and “consequences.” Unless one is going to say that all PDs are run perfectly, one will always have horror stories. (Of course, there are horror stories in BIGLAW regarding botch mergers, too.)

    : Although the public defenders are highly skilled and experienced attorneys, they are severely overworked. They carry a caseload of up to 20 clients a day!

    This is sometimes true. Of course, it requires context. 20 clients a day might not be that much if their “client” is doing something fairly mechanical. For the most part, a “20-client-day” is no different than the fact that a judge or prosecutor will handle even more than those 20 clients doing the same mechanical thing (e.g. dismissing (or whatever the local term is) a case based on the satisfaction of certain conditions.

    : What this means for their clients is that the public defender cannot afford to spend more than a few minutes on the client’s case before moving on to the next case.

    Again, this might, in some cases be true, too. But, in any practice, it may well be that in some circumstances, the nature of the beast is that there isn’t enough time as people would like. Now, this doesn’t mean that disputed motions or trials are argued with no preparation, but, yes, there are times when all lawyers fly by the seat of their pants.

    : If your case happens to need more research or a closer look, it is possible that the public defender will simply not have enough time to do the necessary work.

    He doesn’t state this emphatically. But, again, this is true in ALL areas of practice. Criminal. Civil. Heck, there are even lawyers that do nothing but seek Private Letter Ruling from the IRS that have to think fast about things they didn’t expect. (E.g. A colleague of mine was doing a “site visit” at one of his client’s facilities with representative from the IRS. Something unexpected happened. Just like a public defendant he didn’t have the time to research the law on the issue. He had to think fast.) Unfortunately, the nature of criminal practice is probably faster than other areas, but I would blame the courts, not the lawyers for this. And the speed has its plusses and minuses for defendants, too.

    : The Public Defender is so overworked that they often times fail to build a meaningful relationship with their clients; they simply do not have the time.

    Again, not an emphatic statement. “Often times” doesn’t mean all the time. It doesn’t even mean “most of the time.” But what is a meaningful relationship? Does it mean wining and dining the clients? My guess is that “meaningful” (beyond what is professionally necessary to represent a client) is in the eye of the beholder.

    :This means that they will not have the time to sit down with you and listen to your side of the story.

    This probably is the most egregious statement. However, I can argue that, in context, it means that *sometimes* public defenders are not sitting and chatting for such a long time that the defendant will get to tell his “side” of the story. Now, the irony about this statement is that a defendant’s “side” of the story is often irrelevant to the resolution of the case.

    : They also will not have the time to answer your phone calls and questions.

    Again, it depends. If a client is talkative and crazy, most PDs won’t have time for his crap. Unless someone is paying per hour, most people in private practice won’t have time for conspiracy theories, either. But “not having time” is different than “not performing up to par.” This firm seems to think it can sell people by telling them that public defenders won’t spend all day pretending that what a client says is interesting, but, for some reason it will. Stripped to its heart, claiming to “listen” is a fairly modest claim.

    Reply
  3. Malum

    I find myself on the fence here. As a PD, I agree they paint us in a dim light and with an articulate play of words paint a persuasive picture as to why they should hire a “gunslinger”. I mean it is their commercial and hey if I catch a little mud while they lessen my caseload I think we can live with that.

    What I don’t like is that they don’t seem to be all they claim to be. First they have one telephone number and they make a subtle notation about their “main office”. These guys smell like brokers who do intakes and then funnel out the cases to solo practitioner’s that they have a “Of Counsel” agreements with. I know about this because my firm (prior to coming to the PD’s Office)used to provide the same service to mortgage fraud attorneys.

    We would do the intake, primarily with Latino non-english speaking clients, and then farm the case out to more experienced predatory lending specialists. For a cut of the action.

    In the beginning it was win-win because we were able provide an under represented market with qualified legal service and at the same time, my partners and I learned the ins and outs of mortgage fraud.

    But these guys seem different, they have the experienced former prosecutor and founding attorneys promoting the service but probably have the young kid who just got his license and hung out his shingle working the case. While they may be able to call the “main office” for advice in the end what will end up happening is the client will get more personalized attention but pleading the case out in the end.

    They may not have our case load but it takes more than webpage and and an 800 number to pull the trigger.

    Besides Gideon, you and I both know that as PD’s are reputations are known and respected in the jails. At the same time unfortunately if a case gets assigned to some of our colleagues, they may be better of hiring one of these young guns.

    Happy New Year

    Rem

    Reply
  4. Scott Greenfield

    S.cotus’s point is well taken, but the issue isn’t whether PDs can be overburdened and underfunded. The issue is smearing an entire category of defender for the purpose of self-promotion.

    There are bad criminal defense lawyers. Some come free. Some cost money. Some cost a lot of money. Some PDs turn out to be some of the finest lawyers around. Some retained lawyers have never tried a case.

    If there was any group that I would challenge to demonstrate their skills in criminal defense, it would be the white collar specialists at Biglaw whose entire repetoire is cooperating to assure that their clients see the inside of a federal prison.

    Reply
  5. S.cotus

    Mr. Greenfield, In reading the ad carefully, it reads like some briefs: what first appears to be incorrect categorical statements, later turns out to be examples of one instance. Is this smearing an entire category of lawyers? Not sure.

    The irony in this is that the BIGLAW White Collar specialists don’t attract clients by web-based advertising. So, if you have to aggressively and indiscriminately market yourself, you already can’t reach a large segment of paying clients.

    Reply
  6. Gideon Post author

    Very good points from all. My basic problem is that every point made by these lawyers in these posts could have been made by dropping the comparisons to public defenders and they would have been just as effective.

    What is the need to trash on other members of the same profession (and let’s not kid ourselves – they’re trying to make themselves look better by playing up the stereotypes about public defenders)?

    A lot of what they said is true – but it doesn’t apply only to public defenders. So why aren’t other firms mentioned? Because there’s the prevailing notion that public defenders are a)overworked and b) don’t do anything but force clients to plead guilty.

    It’s fear mongering.

    Reply
  7. Scott Greenfield

    The Public Defender is so overworked that they often times fail to build a meaningful relationship with their clients; they simply do not have the time. This means that they will not have the time to sit down with you and listen to your side of the story. They also will not have the time to answer your phone calls and questions.

    One qualifier, “often times,” but many categorical statements. I don’t accept the premise that this is a fair critique or statement of fact, and one little wiggle doesn’t undo a categorical denigration of PDs.

    Reply
  8. S.cotus

    “one little wiggle doesn’t undo a categorical denigration of Pds.”

    In the moral and ethical sense it does not. But, in the “… client said it to an FBI agent” sense of the word is probably DOES prevent “false statements” conviction (or “perjury”) if it was in court or whatever.

    So, your comment that “A lot of what they said is true – but it doesn’t apply only to public defenders.” shows the whole problem: it is IMMORAL to trash PDs, but it is not incorrect to say things about some PDs that might apply to all lawyers.

    The reason that I find myself almost defending that firm (wow… it almost sounds like “defending those people”) is that the writing style and turns of phrases are often taught to lawyers (all kinds) as a good example of advocacy. Of course in those contexts, judges expect this, and there is an ample opportunity to rebut it.

    Reply
  9. Scott Greenfield

    Yeah.

    I go back to Gid’s original point. It’s being used to denigrate PDs for self-promotion. It’s unseemly. It’s unnecessary. Even if there is plausible deniability, it’s just the wrong thing to do. Unless their firm motto is, “We may suck, but we’re better than the absolute worst lawyers anywhere!”

    And what’s with the Mr. Greenfield stuff? Call me what my kids call me, the old man who sleeps upstair next to mom. Or just plain Greenfield. Or whatever.

    Reply
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  11. Atticus

    Sorry folks. Our biggest problem is not that guys like this may denigrate us for their own biz purposes but that their pitch resonates so easily with so many of our clients. Why? Because too many of them have heard this stuff forever, and all too often have had personal experiences with PDs that seem to support the stereotype.

    The only and best solution is to negate the stereotype by words and, more importantly, by our own deeds with our clients and their families. Visit clients at the jail. Call them and their family members back. Research and file the same motions that you’d expect out of any excellent criminal defense attorney. Take their concerns about PDs and turn them around. Over time, you will get the good reputation in the jailhouse and become the best possible answer to the image problems that have plagued us for so long. It takes a lot of weekends and nights, but it’s really the only way for us to redeem ourselves, and to rest comfortably at night in the knowledge that our advice to clients is based on the facts and not on the crappy working conditions that truly do exist in many PD offices across the nation.

    As for those “real” lawyers, I often remind my clients that they always want their money up-front, just in case the client’s not so thrilled with their representation when all is said and done. The truth is, most PDs are motivated by something much bigger than money, and it doesn’t get any “realer” than being a PD.

    Reply
  12. Gideon Post author

    Atticus – no one is arguing that this is our “biggest problem”. It’s just annoying, nonetheless. At least to me.

    Yes, the ways to dispel the myth is to prove it wrong by action. I don’t doubt that and strive for that myself.

    Yet, it doesn’t help that fellow members of the bar would exploit that stereotype for their own pecuniary gain.

    Reply
  13. SPO

    Gideon, would you as a PD acknowledge that, as good as you are and as dedicated as you are, that sometimes a criminal defense attorney with specialized expertise (or a contributor to the judge’s re-election campaign) would be better, to say nothing of more resources at hand per case.

    I agree that the advertising is slimy. The post is telling people how they will be treated by a real live lawyer, something which may or may not be true.

    Reply
  14. Scoplaw

    Damn. All this time I’ve been trying to give *legal advice* instead of *legal advise.*

    I feel so incompetent.

    Reply

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