Monday, February 28, 2011

Warning Belles

After one has been an attorney for a while, one gains this ability to pick up on little nuances and clues that they likely would have missed in their early years. 

For example, when I am in a district court criminal trial and the judge says, “Mrs. Council, you don’t have a closing argument, do you? 

I could have a closing rivaling the mythical Atticus Finch, but I will take that cue, save the argument for another day and plant my butt firmly in my seat while answering, “No, your Honor.”

If I didn’t pick up on the judge’s meaning, I would only serve to piss the judge off as I continued to run my mouth.  There could even be a situation where the judge intended to rule for my client, but my clueless head and reckless mouth served to sway him or her the other way.

Another example of the necessity of reading between the lines occurs when a prospective client comes to meet with me about taking on their case.  If the client has been through more than one attorney prior to landing in your office, warning bells are going off all over the place.  In 99.999% of the cases where another attorney has been involved, one of two things has likely happened:  (1) The attorney got fed up with the client’s unreasonable (imagined or real) demands;  or (2) The client fired the attorney because they couldn’t meet the client’s demands (reasonable or not).

Regardless of how the aforementioned attorney/client relationship ended, I can be sure of one thing:  The file the I take on will be chock full of things being done that shouldn’t have been done, things that should have been done not being done or things only half done at best.  Did you follow that?  I didn't.

When one is a young, starry-eyed lawyer, one takes on cases where another attorney has been involved with the delusion that all ills could be cured and pitfalls avoided.  When an attorney gets a little more experience under their belt, they know that they might be able to hold things fast for a week or two, but those aforementioned ills and pitfalls always come back.

The most important clue an attorney will ever learn to catch involves court appointed District and Superior Court criminal cases.  When I am assigned to a case, I will get a notice of assignment in my courthouse file.  On the very, very, very rare occasion, I will get a telephone call from an Assistant District Attorney wanting to talk to me about an appointment that I didn’t even know I had yet. 

That is bad.

So, I speak with the ADA and she informs me that I am the ninth attorney for Defendant A because he is combative and unreasonable.

That is pretty damn bad. 

Next, I show up for Court and mention the Defendant’s name and everybody—the judge, the assistant district attorneys, the clerks, the court reporters, other defense attorneys and even a couple of folks in the audience all do that quick intake of breath, say “Ooooooooooh” and shake their heads.

That is catastrophically bad.

By this point, all of the little nuances and clues I was talking about are screaming at me to run, change my name and start a new life as a Wyoming ranch hand.  Seriously, Oliver Wendell Holmes would shit a chicken at this point.

Of course, I am at a complete loss as to how to go about my client predicament, but when all else fails, use your manners.  I decide to “Southern Belle” him.  If for no other reason, I could at least comfort myself by saying that I started off being polite. 

I won’t go into gory detail, but seeing as I was called “Satan’s Unclean Servant” from the moment I met with him and gave him my prizewinning Garden Party Smile, I decided to take those oh-so-unsubtle clues and hints that were thrown my way and head off for the proverbial sunset.  Motion to withdraw:  Granted.

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