Rich Clients and “Fancy” Lawyers

In this odd age where the woke aspire to mediocrity for all, it’s hardly surprising that the Epstein case raises, like the Weinstein case before it, the “unfairness” of the right to counsel of choice for criminal defendants. After all, rich people are rich, so they can buy the best legal talent and services around. As the cutting edge of wokeness, Matty Yglesias, said:

Epstein case reminds me once again of how wrongheaded it was of people to argue in the Sullivan/Weinstein situation that fancy lawyers should be exempt from moral criticism over their discretionary work on behalf of rich clients.

Of course, there is the “moral criticism” of defending “discretionary” clients, because the woke know who’s guilty, and their crimes offend their sensibilities, unlike, say the murder by a black drug dealer of another black drug dealer who stole his corner, who is oppressed and deserving of empathy.

But these aren’t mere lawyers. These are “fancy” lawyers.

Can someone explain to me why it’s okay that people can spend money to get better legal representation in a criminal trial?

B/c it just seems obviously wrong. You can *pay* for a better outcome? Isn’t that the opposite of justice? Doesn’t it by definition corrupt our system?

Before anyone screams “you can’t pay for a better outcome, you pay for better representation, Chillax. A great many defendants make the same mistake, assuming that if they pay some “fancy” lawyer big bucks, it guarantees them a better outcome. Some think the lawyer takes the judge out for White Russians, they chat, they bond, it all gets worked out with a wink and smile. Except none of this is how it happens.

Law is a profession, and as such a combination of art and science. Some lawyers are better than others. It happens. Some spot issues others miss. Some write arguments more persuasively than others. Some just work harder. Some work a lot harder.

Some of these lawyers who work hard, are smart, and are exceptionally persuasive end up as public defenders. Many go on to become private criminal defense lawyers, after they’ve gained some experience, because most of our kids like to eat and, well, we didn’t take an oath of poverty so some religion prof on twitter could whine about the unfairness of capitalism.

It’s true that there are “fancy” lawyers. They didn’t start out all that fancy, but they ended up that way because they worked hard, honed their skills, protected their reputation for integrity and gained the confidence of clients and their brethren (or some sort of sibling-type group, if they, formerly known as Farhad Manjoo, was taken seriously.)

While calling them “fancy” may be a pejorative, they are. They earned it. They may wear fancy suits. Drive fancy cars. Live in fancy houses. They do this because they are excellent lawyers, great at what they do and therefore command higher fees than, say, the unduly-passionate rookie or burned-out sloth or the lawyer who means well but just isn’t very good at it.

But there’s a more significant aspect to “fancy” lawyers that dolts often miss. Their skill is one thing, but the time and collateral support services tend to be far more critical. They can research as long and hard as they need, often running into dead ends, a time-wasting luxury that public defenders can’t afford, but ultimately find great law. They can write, and rewrite, and edit, and have someone better edit them again, until their arguments are honed to the sharpest possible point. And they can get experts and investigators all of whom like to earn a decent living as well. For the unwashed, do you have any clue what a medical expert costs?

But is the ability to buy better talent and resources just a “fancy” lawyer problem?

It’s totally different from everything else—health care, education, etc. In these cases there’s an argument that not everyone should get the same treatment.

But with justice, if being rich gets you better odds at for avoiding a guilty verdict, then the system IS CLEARLY UNJUST.

It’s not “totally different.” In fact, it’s not different at all. There are better docs and worse, with private clinics and public hospitals, and the tea is much better at the private clinics. There are prestigious colleges and community colleges, and tutors help you get into one rather than the other. The rich have the option of paying for more and better, no matter what it is, education, medicine, and yes, law. Diamonds too, but that’s not at issue here.

But Comrade Rabinowitz has a point, even if he makes it in all-caps while channeling his inner twelve-year-old, that it is unjust that being rich gets you better odds at avoiding a guilty verdict. At least he’s past his buying a better outcome dopiness, but better odds is closer to reality.

However, he takes the same wrong turn that so many of the activists for mediocrity take, that the solution is to make things worse, harder, for the rich rather than to make this better, easier, for everyone else. Every defendant should receive excellent counsel, whether they’re “fancy” or just damn good at their job. Every lawyer should have the time to do her work as best she can. Every lawyer should have the support resources necessary to provide every defendant with the ability to defend. The solution isn’t to tie weights on the lawyers for the rich, but to remove weights from the lawyers for the poor.

Of course, this solution requires money. More public defenders to free them up to put in as much time as any case requires. More support services. More money to pay lawyers, so they don’t have to drive Ubers at night or lose focus on their client because they’re worrying how they are going to feed the kids again tonight.

All it takes is money. You know who has money? The rich. And they get to spend it. As for the rest, they too could have the money to pay for the defense they deserve, but that would have to come from the public and the public doesn’t really like defendants. Especially defendants who commit crimes they deem reprehensible and not particularly worthy of the public’s largesse.

At the moment, those crimes involve sex offenses and crimes against women and minorities. They used to involve drug crimes and murders. The most hated crime shifts from time to time, but there’s one thing that remains the same. Everybody hates the accused of one flavor or another, and nobody wants to pay up to improve the quality of defense for everyone, since that would include the defendants they hate, who definitely don’t deserve a “fancy” defense because they’re guilty and awful. And so, it’s left to the individual defendants to pay the freight, and the rich can afford to do so.

25 thoughts on “Rich Clients and “Fancy” Lawyers

  1. Cinnamongirl

    “Some think the lawyer takes the judge out for White Russians, they chat, they bond, it all gets worked out with a wink and smile”

    Exception: In the case of Epstein, his fancy lawyer met the prosecutor Acosta over bacon and eggs in a hotel, fancy no doubt, and the plea deal was struck. A fact that the Secretary of Labor did not highlight when making his lame public defense yesterday.

    Reply
    1. SHG Post author

      On rare occasion, I’ve been able to get the AUSA to meet me outside the office, but they still split the check. But as I’m sure you realize, that’s a complete non sequitur just to take a gratuitous swipe at Acosta.

      Reply
  2. B. McLeod

    How his head would explode if he had to live in the world pre-Gideon, when “right to counsel” was understood to mean “right to counsel you can pay for.”

    Maybe Matty would like to troll through human history and pull out for us the examples of societies where justice was equal for the high and low, the rich and the poor. Marvelous epiphany though. He should get out more often.

    Reply
    1. delurking

      If only there were a large literature on inquisitorial vs. adversarial systems of justice that could be used to help inform one’s opinion on how defendants should be represented… Maybe it would be nice if that literature included, for example, the relative performances of such systems with regard to the rights of disfavored minorities or the poor…

      Yah, OK, he actually says everyone should be required to use a public defender, but you’ve effectively created an inquisitorial system if the same government employs both the prosecution and the defense in all trials.

      Reply
  3. szr

    So the woke position is that it is problematic, and possibly immoral, to provide legal services to someone unless one is willing to discriminate on the basis of race or gender?

    Reply
  4. Art W Schuster

    Your record selection summed it up very well.
    However, could you have thrown in a tune of 2 on “honey pots”?

    Reply
  5. B. McLeod

    “Dear Mr. Yglesias:

    Please excuse Jeffrey for spending some of his abundant wealth on fancy lawyers to defend him against the charges filed in the SDNY. It was probably a kneejerk reaction, because the serious nature of the charges could result in imprisonment for the rest of his natural life, so I hope you can see your way clear to giving him a ‘pass’ this time.”

    /s/ Epstein’s Mother

    Reply
  6. Pedantic Grammar Police

    “Some think the lawyer takes the judge out for White Russians, they chat, they bond, it all gets worked out with a wink and smile. ”

    When I lived in Texas this was exactly how it happened. My traffic lawyer was friends with the DA, and I could take traffic school 20 times a year if I wanted to. Corruption is only bad for those who aren’t in on it.

    Reply
      1. Pedantic Grammar Police

        The little dog only gets little bones. If I wanted to shoot someone, or molest young girls, I would need to be a billionaire. Even then it might not work out so well. I might use my connections to get off, and then years later suddenly I’m on the hook again.

        It looks like the Miami Herald’s “Perversion of Justice” series may have prompted the reopening of Epstein’s case by motivating officials and bringing forward new victims. As long as the Austin-American Statesman doesn’t do a series about Austin’s worst ever serial traffic violator, I should be OK.

        The nice thing about speeding is that, even if I have to suffer the consequences, they are not life-destroying.

        Reply
        1. SHG Post author

          Do you ever wonder how cheap those rich people who end up prison must be, refusing to buy themselves some decent justice? PGP, the point is that whether you’re right or completely missing the point of your speeding misadventure, it’s got nothing to do with anything else anywhere ever. Stop assuming it does and the world is a vast corrupt conspiracy because you got what you believe is a deal on speeding ticket.

          Reply
  7. John Haberstroh

    The unspoken problem is the fact of rich people. A big fat wealth tax would solve it. And substantially reduce political corruption too.

    Reply

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