In previous Blog articles, I have written about various aspects of Probation Violations. In some Courts, these are termed “VOP,” meaning Violation of Probation. Other Courts schedule them as “Show Cause” Hearings. Whatever the name, the purpose of the Hearing is the same: A reckoning for either doing something prohibited under the Probation Order, or for NOT doing something that was ordered. This article will examine how I do Probation Violations, why I think I’m so good at them, and how much I charge.
In almost every one of my other Blog articles I have steered away from sounding like a salesman, opting instead to describe the various legal processes, and how they work, at least locally. This article will be a departure from that. I write this in response to a number of calls and e-mails inquiring about retaining my services in Probation Violation cases.
I have been asked any number of times if I have ever handled a case like this, or that, or have been in front of some Judge or other. Likewise, I have often been asked what kind of strategy I would employ in handling someone’s case. I want to answer all these questions in one fell swoop.
I have observed that Probation Violation Hearings are typically less “legalistic” than other kinds of Criminal Proceedings, because the only issue before the Judge in a Violation Proceeding is to determine, by what’s called a “Preponderance of the Evidence” (in other words, that there is more proof that Probation was violated than there’s proof it was not; think 50.01% -vs- 49.99%) whether the person either did something that was prohibited by the Order of Probation, or failed to do something that was required by it. Thus, many of the Rules of Evidence, which govern criminal Trials, don’t apply, and all that “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” stuff goes out the window. Being a “legal encyclopedia” does not mean even the most knowledgeable Lawyer can effectively handle a Probation Violation.
When it comes to Probation Violations, you should be looking for a Lawyer who’s Professional in appearance, and charismatic in disposition. If you really want to get specific, you should be looking for someone whose personality seems magnetic. Forget anyone who comes off as arrogant. Same with Rude. Ditto for cold. And, above all, you should look for someone who’s “local.”
I limit geographic area of my Practice to Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties. Since I’m in Court pretty much everyday, usually several times per day, that means I get around. Instead of trying to be everything to everybody, and instead of being one of those “All Cases, All Courts” operations, I limit both what I do and where I do it. This means if you’re read about it on my Blog, or on my Website, then I handle it, and if I handle it, that means I have also handled it before.
If you’re case is in almost any Court in the Detroit area, I’ve been to there before. If I haven’t, then it means it’s too far and I’m not interested in going there, anyway. That’s another benefit of being a seasoned veteran; you don’t have to run around all over for business. If your Court is much more than 45 minutes from my Office, chances are, I won’t want to go there. Thus, there’s no chance of my taking you’re money to walk into a situation that I’m not familiar with.
At this point in my career, I have no desire, and no need, to start learning new things, or handling cases that fall outside of my comfort zone. One of the perks of having been a Lawyer for 20 years is that, at this point, I’m I the prime of my stride; young enough to be quite sharp, but old enough to have decades of experience, which, in it’s most basic form, translates to what some call wisdom. I often say that when you hire me, you’re paying for my experience, not my tuition to learn something new.
I hope that I’ve at least answered the “are you familiar with…?” and “have you handled this kind of case before…?” questions. If you’re case is beyond what I do, what I’ve done, or where I’m willing to do it, I won’t waste your time talking about it. Instead, I’ll politely explain why I’m unable to help so that you can move on.
Another question that almost always comes up is “how much do you charge?”
Usually, my fee is $1000.00 for a Probation Violation; sometimes it’s more.
Here’s where I can offer some really sound advice based upon that twenty years’ experience: Although the saying “you get what you pay for” isn’t always true, there are no bargains when you’re looking for good talent. Let’s be honest. Anyone who is really good at what they do knows it.
You may not like their music, but do you think the Rolling Stones take phone calls about playing some venue, and when asked if they can put on a good show, say something like “well, we think we’re okay”? And if the person wanting to book the show mentions that they’re calling around for prices, do you thing the Stones say “well, we can do this show for about $800.00, but no less”?
In a way, the gravity of a Probation Violation is somewhat similar to a heart attack. Complications can be managed, and very often, managed quite well. In some cases, no amount of outside effort can prevent a tragedy. In other cases, effective treatment is the key to a successful outcome, or at least in minimizing consequences.
So if someone is having a heart attack, should the family start calling around and looking at prices? “Hey doc, the guy down the block said he’d do it for $700; how much would you charge?”
Without fail, anyone in such a dire situation would want the best care possible, and you can be sure a good Doctor with decades of experience isn’t going to be worried about being the lowest bidder.
As I mentioned before, that does not mean that the higher the fee, the better the service. Instead, it means that cut-rate services and those interested in beating or matching others’ fees should be seen for what they are.
So, now that we’ve narrowed the field and gotten away from discount services, how do figure out who to hire?
Use your ears. I’m reminded of the portrayals of Lawyers in the Movies, and on TV. Every time I see some gavel-banging Judge (and I’ve NEVER seen a Judge so much as TOUCH a gavel in real life) trying to calm down two bickering Lawyers on opposing sides, all I hear are smart-aleck quips and snipes from plastic actors that make me shake my head in wonder. Who would hire some deadpan that’s best talent is being a rude, sarcastic smart-aleck?
When your freedom is really on the line, and when you are, for real, looking down the barrel of a Jail sentence, you want a lawyer who has that certain charm and balance of tact and candor that are naturally attractive and persuasive. More than anything else, it’s that ability to speak persuasively and say meaningful things that are the legal goods being sold. Now, given that those things are natural abilities and talents, and cannot be learned, a potential Client should look for those qualities in a Lawyer who has also refined them with years of experience. How do you recognize that? I think you’ll know it when you hear it. You can certainly tell a lot about me from this Blog. See what other Lawyers have written.
Another part of the experience for which a Lawyer is being hired is the ability to read a Judge. Simply going in with “plan A” and pitching it to the Judge can be a huge mistake if, for whatever reason, the Judge doesn’t seem to be too fond of “plan A,” or isn’t being convinced by it. You need a “plan B,” and even a “plan C.” Part of that “plan C” is the ability to think on your feet, and change direction if the current one is no good.
So what are some of the “magic phrases” that work with Judges in a Probation Violation Hearing? That depends on the case, the Judge, and his or her mood that very moment. How about listing some of the most useless things that I hear said by Lawyers, and which I think are a complete waste of breath and time, no matter what the case, who the Judge, or anything else:
“My Client wants to put this behind him (or her).”
“She (or he) just wants to get on with her (or his) life.”
So do I…so what…?
“He (or she) realizes this was a stupid thing to do.”
“She (of he) wants to be able to go to work and help support her (or his) family.”
As opposed to what…?
“He (or she) wasn’t thinking when….”
So he (or she) was unconscious…?
“She (or he) just used bad judgment when….”
“My Client knows he (or she) has an alcohol problem….”
But he (or she) drank anyway…?
“My Client knows she (or he) has a drug problem….”
So does everybody else….
And people pay for this?
In very general terms, the “strategy” for any given case is for the Lawyer and the Client to meet, to go over the underlying Criminal Case, the Sentence ordered by the Judge, and then look at the facts and circumstances surrounding the alleged Violation. Just like a Doctor who wants blood work, lab tests and x-rays before he or she decides how to approach a Patient, a good Lawyer will do the legal equivalent in a Probation Violation case.
From there, a plan should begin to materialize. Any plan will take into account all the factors of the case, the Person charged with the Violation, the particular Judge, and any other factor or factors that are relevant, such as any previous Probation Violations in the same case, or the person’s prior Criminal Record, if any. This cannot be done is a matter of minutes. In my office, I usually tell my Clients that we’ll be spending at least an hour to an hour-and-a-half together. Sometimes, there will be relevant information that needs to be acquired, like proof of Counseling, or Treatment, or verification of employment, or student status.
Producing a good result, or at least producing the very best outcome possible under the circumstances, is the product of the Lawyer’s natural ability and talent combined with years of experience. It takes a good instinct, but that instinct is made better by practice. Home Run kings in baseball still take batting practice, don’t they?
Given the level of confidence in and the degree of experience and talent involved, price-shopping is an almost sure way to exclude these factors. Think about it, although you can surely name a few overpaid celebrities and sports stars, can you think of one case where good talent was acquired on a low-bidder basis?
So of a potential Client asks me why they should hire me, I tell them that, without trying to sound cocky, I’m extremely good at this. I don’t try murder cases, and I’d never hire myself to handle one, but I have yet to see a Lawyer I’d want more than me if I was facing a Probation Violation.
If you asked Michael Jordan what he thought he was good at, I bet he’d say scoring points. If you asked Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt what they thought they are good at, they’d likely say acting.
Of course, I don’t expect someone to just take my word for it. Check out other Blogs and Websites. See how other Lawyers approach these cases. Send e-mails; make calls. Use your ears. If you are turned off by someone, that’s a pretty good sign that he or she isn’t the Lawyer for you. And bear in mind, being charismatic and persuasive does not mean simply telling the potential Client what they want to hear. You should feel drawn to the person you want to represent you, and feel good about them. If not, move on. And that applies to me, as well. Remember, I said early on that one of the benefits of being at my level is NOT having to be everything to everyone. Instead, it’s the ability to be exactly who I am, doing what I’m naturally good at, and being hired by those who find me to be a good match for what they need, not by my trying to convince them that I am.