One of the praises that’s often heaped on a good lawyer (or anyone, for that matter) is that he or she is “caring.” No one would argue that caring about your work, no matter what you do for a living, is an important part of doing well. A brilliant musician practices endlessly; a top-level athlete does the same. In the learned occupations, however, we are taught that it is necessary to maintain a certain “professional” distance from the client or patient. It is my belief that it is nearly impossible to get this just right. In my case, I know that the best I can hope for is to at least give the outward appearance of maintaining that distance, even though inside, I often taken matters to heart. This is part of my job for which there is and can be no compensation. In a manner of speaking, having a conscience can be a pain. It means fighting hard, but smart, in every DUI case. In driver’s license restoration cases, it means only accepting clients who are genuinely sober, but providing a guaranteed win in return. In criminal cases, it means never forgetting that your client has essentially trusted you with his or her future.
Like so many of my other articles, this one was inspired by recent events. I have to remain mum regarding particulars of the case; part of my approach in any case that attracts media attention is to deflect that attention and cause a loss of interest in the matter. As I have noted in other articles, while it may serve a lawyer’s interests to get publicity, it seldom helps the client. In addition, I have just about never heard a lawyer say anything worthwhile when talking to the press. I’m waiting for the one time when a defense lawyer promises to beat a case, and then actually does it. Anything less is really nothing worth talking about, but that won’t stop many lawyers from doing just that when they find a microphone in their face. Accordingly, we’ll omit reference to any identifying information about the case at issue beyond noting that one of my clients is facing criminal charges that have very serious implications for his freedom, career and life.
This kind of situation isn’t really anything unusual for me, or for any lawyer that does criminal or DUI work. In many cases, like a driver’s license restoration, for example, the upshot of a win versus a lost can have a monumental impact in a person’s life. The client in the case at hand is really an extraordinarily nice person, and I’ve gotten to know him well, along with his family. I have seen, firsthand, how his case has become a crisis for his entire family. Maybe in part because of the tears I’ve seen fall, I’ve worked extra hard on it. The reality is that people make mistakes. Sometimes, good people can find themselves in really bad situations. In certain cases, the potential legal penalties are harsh, even for someone who has otherwise been a model citizen. This is especially true when a person’s position in life will be severely compromised by a particular conviction. A self-employed contractor may not endure many adverse consequences even for a serious felony record, whereas another person may lose a lot, perhaps even his or her job, over a simple 1st offense misdemeanor DUI conviction. Everything is relative…
I’d have a lot less stress if I could just adopt the “you takes ’em where you finds ’em” approach: Hey, if this kind of a conviction will cost you your career, then you should have thought about that before you did it. This may be easy to say, but it is hard to do when you actually care about your client. Call it a blessing or call it a curse, I have this conscience thing that always nags at me to do the right thing, and to do everything humanly and legally possible to make things better for my client. And while it may sound like bragging, it’s just a plain fact that my clients are almost always a few cuts above average. I don’t represent people that you’d consider “criminals.” I don’t take rape or murder cases, nor do I handle cases for the marginal sort of person that vandalizes property or breaks into houses. My usual sort of client is well-heeled and has a very good job; many have advanced degrees. For my typical client, finding him or herself facing a criminal charge is both out of character and incredibly stressful. While many of my clients come to my office fearing the worst, I can usually ease those fears rather easily. No, you won’t lose your professional license; no, you won’t lose your job.
Yet in some cases, a client will find him or herself in a situation that, no matter how good the outcome, the very fact that there ever was a criminal or DUI case to begin with creates a huge problem. And because I do care, I cannot help but shoulder some of their stress. In the case that inspired this article, I not only worked extra hard, but I was stressed extra hard, as well. My client relied upon me to produce the best outcome possible, and I had to make sure that there wasn’t one stone left unturned in doing just that. This meant that I was on the computer at 10:30 at night, reading Supreme Court cases, or reviewing the file.
And for all of this, the reader might yawn and think, “So what, you worked hard for your money; you’re supposed to. Whoopee.” However, because I put every fiber of my heart and soul into this case, I was able to procure an outcome that even the prosecutor handling the case noted was unusual and exceptional. In fact, the prosecutor, in complimenting me, said of my client, “He should hug you.” While I cannot get into more detail about the case itself, the kind of result produced here was not produced by mere hard work alone. It came about because of a kind of passion and concern for the client that you cannot have from a “professional distance.” As a lawyer, and probably as a doctor, dentist or really anyone in a learned profession, these things are unavoidable, and are the by-product of the kind of conscience that will never sit quietly and the kind of concern that keeps you up at night.
I wish there was some witty way to end this article, but there isn’t. In truth, the only thing that applies here is the golden rule: Treat others as you would want to be treated. The world would be a much better place if we all lived by it.