Seeing The Dark Side of Differences

Chandler, Arizona criminal defense lawyer Matt Brown is one of those young lawyers whose epiphanies restores my faith that the next generation isn’t just Slackoisie, but has some great people who will do the heavy lifting demanded of us.  Matt posts about the “differences” amongst criminal defense lawyers, something that most either deny or refuse to see.

It’s strange to look at someone who’s doing something so vastly different from what I do and realize that to almost everyone outside of our narrow little field, we’re the same. Really smart people hire terrible, high-volume lawyers for their criminal cases. The difference between a lawyer who personally works every aspect of your case and a lawyer who farms your case out to an associate carrying a caseload that would make a misdemeanor prosecutor blush isn’t that clear to most people. A lawyer is a lawyer. A person whose career seems as foreign to me as a day-trader or a sales rep looks an awful lot like me to many people.

What does it feel like to stroll into court late and yell your client’s name to the gallery hoping someone responds? How does it feel telling a client the fee she’s paying you is for someone else to do the work? I guess people who do that don’t say they do that, so scratch that question. What is it like to not know the names of your clients and be able to talk to them about the things that matter to them? I don’t really care to know. An acquittal doesn’t mean an awful lot if you don’t know what your client’s going home to. The flip side I guess is that a guilty verdict doesn’t sting as much if you have no clue what your client’s losing.

What’s really significant about Matt’s post is that he connects dots that most of his contemporaries can’t or won’t.  There is a “feel-good” mantra around those criminal defense lawyers who engage in social media that we’re all on the same team, we’re all part of the same club.  We should be kind to each other, support each other.  We should write positive blog posts about each other. We should follow each other on twitter.  Isn’t that what we’re all here to do?

Sadly, no.  We’re not all on the same team.  We may all call ourselves criminal defense lawyers, but our teams are vastly different. 

Most of the criminal defense lawyers online appear to be caring, aggressive and smart.  We know because they tell us so.  They assert their self-assessment and challenge others to disagree.  Others are to accept their self-assessment and embrace them as one of the gang.  One big happy family of wonderful caring, aggressive and smart criminal defense lawyers. 

But as Matt notes, there are CDLs who don’t care, who provide terrible representation and who suck.  We all know them in real life.  We see them in court.  We hear them as they yell out the names of clients they’ve never met to plead them guilty to crimes they don’t understand.  These are bad criminal defense lawyers.

Isn’t it wonderful that none of these have ever touched a computer?

But they have, of course.  They promote themselves in websites and blogs.  They talk tough and sound like great lawyers.  Their self-assessment is that they are great lawyers.  They persuade clients that they are great lawyers, and that the clients should retain them.  They take the client’s money, far less than another lawyer would charge the client.  But to the client, both are great lawyers because they say so.  If you have a choice between two great lawyers, and one charges a fraction of what the other charges, who would you use?

The lawyers with their names on the side of a bus probably don’t share my philosophy on goals. The goal for them is clearly money. Many lawyers feel that way. That’s why salespeople regularly contact my office suggesting unethical fee-splitting agreements. I wouldn’t have to spend hours each week playing ethics whack-a-mole with my email inbox if desperate lawyers weren’t buying into all of the SEO and illegal referral scams disbarred lawyers keep forcing down our throats.

We’re not all in this together.  Some are in it for the money.  Some just don’t care.  Some don’t have the skills or desire to gain the skills.  Some will never have the skills no matter how strong their desire to acquire them.  Some are more dangerous to our clients than the prosecution or the cops.

And we are all on the internet.  And we all look superficially alike on the internet.  It’s easy to do, and all the others on the internet searching for the embrace of others will squint their eyes and pretend that we’re all part of the same gang. 

Matt softly notes the most disheartening thing about this lesson, that the lawyers who suck don’t realize they suck.  They don’t see what they do as purely mercenary, or inept, or scummy.  They believe that they are good people and good lawyers, who rationalize the poverty of their representation.  They not only want to be part of the gang, but sincerely believe they deserve to be.  That’s their self-assessment.

We are not all in this together.  Some are and some aren’t, but being a criminal defense lawyer isn’t enough. 

Marketing advocates argue that the internet levels the playing field, allowing solos to promote themselves like big firms, providing a benefit to the public by letting them know they exist and offering a means to find them.  Of course, the same is true of incompetent, lying, scum, which never seems to register with marketing advocates. 

The difference seems to be, based on my limited experience on the internet, that the incompetent, lying, scum turn to marketing and self-promotion earlier and harder than good lawyers because they need to.  And when their promotional niche fills up, they turn uglier and ever more deceptive to stand out to the public. 

Matt Brown has his eyes open and sees the differences.  Most of the criminal defense lawyers online, and especially those who populate twitter, following each other to twit their deepest criminal defense thoughts, love and support, are too blind, naive or foolish to see the dark side of these difference.  And they don’t see them in themselves as well as others. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Matt Brown is a very impressive young criminal defense lawyer. 

One thought on “Seeing The Dark Side of Differences

  1. Lee

    I try to be callous about this and say that people get what they deserve, but they don’t really deserve it. The information that buyers of criminal defense services are working with is so imperfect that trying to pretend they have the attributes of a rational consumer is so unfair. I try to tell clients who intend to hire someone about the pitfalls, what to look for and who to watch out for. Sometimes they listen, sometimes they don’t. After all, I’m just a public defender who is working with the DA and judge and cops anyway, why believe me when Dickwad, Esq. told him the case should have already been dismissed and he’ll make it so for a grand? Ultimately, I don’t have enough time to educate every client on how this all works or, frankly, to be as nice to them as I probably should be, I’m too busy working my ass off to get them the best possible result from their case I can. Lots of times they see that early on or hear it from other inmates. That’s when I’m lucky and I get the trust I need to do my job well. Sometimes we get off on the wrong foot and they go and hire counselor Dickwad and get screwed by the system and I try to believe it is their own fault, but its really not.

    A tangential point to this, which ties in with the whole happysphere phenomenon and, in fact, shows us its not a new phenomenon at all is that we all know who the Dickwads are in our jurisdictions, but nobody does a damn thing about it. At best, they may be socially shunned in the hallways and courtrooms by their CDL “brethren.” This was never clearer than when I was recently appointed to a case where my client had fired Dickwad. He had the case for 3 years and did ZERO work. He had promised a specific resolution and, if he couldn’t get it, to file a specific motion. Neither of those things happened. I had the resolution the guy wanted 3 weeks after coming on to the case. It wasn’t the first time I had offered to assist a client in filing a complaint with the State Bar about a dickwad, but usually people don’t want to bother. This client took me up on it and I drafted and filed a complaint with the State Bar on his behalf. When I told the folks in my office about this, overwhelmingly good and caring lawyers, they were appalled and made a lot of fuss about “going down that road” and “setting that precedent” and essentially fretting that if we do that to others, they will do it to us. I don’t understand why a profession that prides itself in taking on great odds and standing up for the little guy suddenly become paralyzed spineless wimps when it comes to policing our own ranks.

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