Michigan Criminal Law – Should I just go with a Court-Appointed Lawyer? – Part 2

In part 1 of this article, we began examining the economic realities Lawyers face in taking Court Appointed cases. In this second part, we’ll focus on how that economic strain translates into time spent, or not spent, resolving a Client’s case, and how that affects the level of service that is ultimately provided.

Beyond time and money, there is another, even less obvious factor that comes into play when we compare having your own Lawyer to taking one who has been Court Appointed. In my Practice, having a Client come in to hire me is almost always the by product of their deciding they like what I have to offer, and my thinking I can help them. In other words, there is sort of a mutual selection that has taken place. If the Client calls my Office and feels alienated, or if I speak with them and think they’re nuts, then it’s not likely we’ll be meeting.

Judgenumber2.jpgWhen I take a person’s money, I feel a very serious responsibility to them to do whatever is necessary to produce the best outcome humanly possible. After all, they paid me.

When the Court pays someone, and the pairing of Attorney-Client has been by chance, that bond and that sense of agreement and understanding are simply not there. That’s not to say that any particular Court Appointed Lawyer will neglect his or her Client’s interests, it’s just that, no matter how you slice it, that bond, understanding, sense of obligation, handshake, or whatever is NOT there, and never will be. Either side can always think “I didn’t hire you” or “you didn’t pick me.”

In fact, it has been noted that there is at least a concern that because it is the Court, and not the Client who pays the Lawyer, the Attorney might be far more afraid to test the Court’s patience, rather than the Clients. Think about it this way: one frustrated Client dealing with an otherwise happy Court passing on Appointments is worth more than one happy Client and a frustrated Court who might direct appointments away from a Lawyer who is seen as inefficient in wrapping cases up and moving them through. Remember who signs the check.

Then there is the matter of time spent with a Client before and during the case. The way I see it, I am paid to explain every aspect of a case to my Client. In a DUI, for example, I’ll meet with my Client for 1 and ½ to 2 hours at our first Appointment. I will begin preparing the Client to take the legally required Alcohol Evaluation. My Client leaves not only with my phone number, but my “personal-business” e-mail so they can get in touch with me as other questions or concerns come up.

When I get to Court, if I see a better deal can be had at a later time, I’m only too happy to adjourn the case. As the Client gets ready to undergo the mandatory alcohol evaluation test, I’ll have them come back into my Office, or if more convenient for them, schedule a phone session for a refresher course. Because I am paid, and, in all honesty, well paid, for my time and services, I can focus exclusively on bringing about the best result possible.

If I started to have to think about how $125 divided by 6 hours here, and another hour there worked out, and if that $17.86 per hour did not even cover my overhead, much less left any money for food and gas, how inclined do you think I’d be, or you would be, for that matter, to go the extra mile.

And for good measure, do understand that a large part of a Private Lawyer’s cost is overhead. In my office, I have 2 employees (which means wages AND health insurance), rent, 7 phone lines, DSL, Association Fees and dues, Postage costs, the repair, supplies and upkeep for the Postage meter, copy machine, computer and software costs, Website fees, office supplies, payroll service, accounting, and loads of other expenses necessary to keep the lights on. If you divide those monthly expenses by 4 weeks, and divide that by 40 hours per week, you’d see that all those expenses can add up to nearly triple-digit hourly costs. This is also true, to an even greater extent, at your Doctor’s and Dentist’s office.

This helps to explain why so many Court Appointed Lawyers are newer Attorneys, learning the ropes. They have not yet built a Practice that has the overhead of a larger, more established operation.

Yet for all of that, there is no excuse for gouging someone for Fees. If you’re really good at what you do, and have honed that talent with years and years of experience, then you certainly deserve the reward of your labors. Still, unless you have some magic powers or can exert some form of mind control on your adversaries, making them do what you want, then charging a Royal fortune is unwarranted.

As I noted at the outset of this article, when the question of “going with” a Court Appointed Lawyer arises, it is usually part of an explanation that the person either doesn’t have any money, or not much of it. Listen, not to sound cold, but we’re all feeling the pinch. When you think about it, it is rather ironic that someone would get caught driving Drunk, or with Drugs, or without a License, and then complain of not having the money to properly handle that situation. Harsh as it may be, if you’re gonna play, you gotta pay.

Sometimes, a follow-up to the question of “should I go with a Court Appointed Lawyer” is something to the effect of “what would be the difference between hiring you and taking a Court Appointed Lawyer?” I believe we’ve answered that, at least in part, already.

There is of course, the issue of Strategy. Beyond all the incentive to spend the time and do whatever is necessary to produce the best outcome possible in any given case, there is often a disparity of experience. While not all Court Appointed Lawyers are “newbies,” many are. To a certain extent the old saying “you get what you pay for” holds some truth.

No one wants to do unnecessary work. If I could cut down my first Office Appointment in a DUI by a ½ hour and achieve the same result, I would. I spend as much time as I do in any case because I believe, and know, that it is necessary to maximize results. In other words, the more time spend preparing, the less consequences my Client will have saddled upon them.

Can you imagine ANY Court Appointed Lawyer spending 1 and ½ to 2 hours with a new Client BEFORE the ever went to Court? Yet the lack of that preparation time means a whole chunk of what I do, and feel is not only important, but necessary in the preparation of a DUI case, is completely left out when a Court Appointed Attorney handles a similar case. It’s not a matter of greed or competence or anything like that, it’s a matter or economic reality.

Say you’re throwing a party, and you want a Band to play live for entertainment. If you look for one that will play for free, for experience, or one just starting out who will do it on the cheap, you’re certainly NOT going to have Aerosmith show up and rock the house.

If you need braces on your teeth, and you shop for the lowest bidder, do you really think you’re going to get the same level of care as everyone else? Do you think the most highly recommended Orthodontists go for low-bidder cases?

The same kind of forward thinking approach should be taken when facing a Criminal charge. For something like an MIP, a Court Appointed Lawyer is undoubtedly good enough.

When facing something, however, where the long term consequences can be kept off your Record, or the consequences to you, or damage to your Record can be minimized by substantial effort, not having your own Lawyer has certain, obvious limitations.

In all honesty, I would never have known any of this if I hadn’t become a Lawyer. My understanding of the system, and how it works, has been refined by over 20 years of working within it. Thus, it’s easy for me to write about my perspective because I have decades of experience handling Criminal cases.

If I was not a Lawyer, I’d probably be asking the exact same questions that are put to me. When you think about it however, the reasons for my answers to those questions should be clear, at least based upon the explanations I’ve given. This means that if I was charged with a Crime, knowing what I now know, I’d look for the right Lawyer, and if money was a problem, I’d beg or borrow (but NOT steal) the money necessary to hire him or her.

So perhaps the best answer to the question is to ask it of the reader: Do you think you should just go with a Court Appointed Lawyer?