Quick Hits: End of Year Edition
For my final post of the year, I thought I’d take the opportunity to answer some of the questions I’ve gotten in the past 12 months. As I hope is obvious by now, I love talking about the law and my work. If you have a question about something I’ve written or a legal issue you may be facing, feel free to give me a call. With that said, let’s get to it!
Q: Still having fun?
A: Goodness yes. I love my job! I get to be creative and aggressive and negotiate and all those fun things. And I do it to help people! That’s not to say that the work isn’t sometimes stressful or there aren’t things that I wish I could change. But honestly I can’t think of anything I would rather be doing than practicing law.
Q: What advice would you give to someone thinking about law school?
A: Don’t do it! The legal field is a quagmire! Save yourself!!!
Some lawyers would say exactly that, because that’s been their experience. Many of my colleagues are having a tough time, either because of poor economy or the work simply isn’t a good fit. And I’ll be the first to say that the economy is tough right now. Jobs are scarce, finances are scarce, and every year seems worse than before for a new lawyer.
That being said, being a lawyer is (in my humble estimation) awesome. For the reasons I described above, you can do some really interesting things for a really good cause. Just as I know many lawyers who are experiencing buyer’s remorse, I know a bunch of attorneys who have found their dream job.
Now, speaking about law school specifically, it’s a very different experience than actually practicing law. Having spoken to a lot of lawyers and a lot of law students before and after I got my own license, I learned an interesting trend: the people who really liked law school generally did not like practicing law as much. And the people who thrived in practice did not always thrive in law school. Personally I thought law school was ok, but it doesn’t hold a candle to practice.
So my advice to prospective law students is to check out both. Go visit some law classes. See if it looks interesting or that you can even bear it for three years. But then go find a couple lawyers in the community, buy them a coffee, and ask them about their jobs too. Keep in mind that while law school only lasts three years, your career as a lawyer could last thirty.
Q: Do you worry about other lawyers or prosecutors stealing the strategies you discuss on your blog?
A: Let’s talk about other defense attorneys first. The defense community in Washington is incredible collegial and generous. If I have a question about a case, there are dozens of attorneys I can ask for input. Likewise, I’ve occasionally helped another lawyer with a case issue as well.
There’s a similar attitude with trial strategy. Lawyers will regularly exchange notes and ideas on effective ways to conduct a trial. There’s no right answer of course; personal style and the facts of a case will determine what makes the most effective strategy . All this is to say, trial tactics are not proprietary. The philosophy of most criminal defense lawyers is to beg and borrow and use whatever works. Blogging about these tactics is a natural extension of this philosophy. I hope other defense attorneys far and wide get some value out of these posts.
Now as far as prosecutors are concerned, I don’t have a problem with sharing tactics as long as we’re not about to go against each other. But the fact is, I don’t even care if they know about it ahead of time. That’s because none of my tactics depend on the element of surprise or anything silly like that. Tell a story? Be respectful? This is basic stuff. And while not every attorney works that way, most probably should. I really don’t mind these ideas raising the level of discourse on both sides of the aisle.
Q: Any big cases right now?
A: I get asked this a lot and it’s a tough question to answer. Obviously, I never talk about the details of my current clients’ cases. Besides ethical concerns, they deserve their privacy during this stressful time.
That being said, I’ve occasionally been on the news for a high-profile case. And occasionally a client’s alleged crimes are discussed in a newspaper. Most of my clients are not, because most people are charged with more “common” crimes like domestic violence or DUI. But to those clients, their case is the biggest thing in the world. I take every case seriously. So I know this is a cop-out but the answer is “Yes, all of them.”
Q: What’s it like running your own business?
A: Exciting and scary. Interesting. Tough. Unlike the practice of law, which I spent a bunch of years in school to learn, I’m mostly self-taught when it comes to business management. Since I’ve been in practice for myself, I’ve learned quite a bit. It required a lot of work, and not everything I do is perfect, but right now it feels like a great fit to allow me to do what I want to do. I talk more about this here and here.
Q: Can you represent people in other states?
A: I get asked this a lot too, and while I’m flattered, generally, the answer is no. An attorney must be licensed to practice law in any given state. Practicing without a license is often a felony (although in Washington it’s a gross misdemeanor). The point is, there are rules and regulations for practicing law in a state. Except for Washington and Federal court, I’m not licensed to go appearing in court in any other jurisdictions.
That being said, each state allows a lawyer to appear for a single case, which is called being admitted pro hac vice. It’s a bit of a process, usually requiring a local attorney agreeing to serve as co-counsel, paying fees, etc.
Q: What’s the best and worst part about your job?
A: The best and worst thing about my job is the same: trial work. I talk about it so much because it’s so complex and so fascinating.
I love being in trial. I would tell anyone I’m a trial lawyer first and a negotiating lawyer second. To me, trial is the essence of our adversarial legal system. Two lawyers simply trying to convince ordinary citizens about the merits of their position, with huge stakes on the line.
That being said, trial is a major investment for me. I will spend dozens and dozens of hours prepping for a trial, not to mention the time involved in the actual courtroom. Unless it’s a single-day trial, I will almost certainly be up way too late going over notes and revising arguments for the next day’s festivities. It’s a very consuming process. I heard a lawyer describe being in trial like being underwater and that stuck with me. The rest of the world seems distant and muted. It’s a stressful experience. I love it.
Q: What’s the best way to avoid legal trouble?
I usually say “don’t talk to the police” and that’s still true. But since this question was about legal trouble as a whole rather than just being charged with a crime, I’ll give another answer: document everything.
I hear far too much about handshake agreements and promises and recollections that have no paper backing. The ideal situation is to have a lawyer draft or look over documents prepared by people, so that everyone knows what’s going on. Barring that, at least write down your own recollection as agreements are made, signed with a date on top (better still if everyone signs it).
Yes it’s technical and looks mistrustful and all that. But you know what? When there’s a dispute, the winner is usually the one with the best records. These days, every time I’m on the phone with my cable company or airline or landlord or something like that, I write down who I was talking to and everything that was discussed. It’s already solved issues before they became serious problems.
Q: Do you know what a judge is going to do ahead of time?
A: Nope, but if I’m doing my job well I try to have a pretty good idea.
You can ask my clients, and it’s even written in my FAQ, but I’ll repeat it here. I never know the future. I’ve been surprised before (in both directions).
But…sometimes I have a confident prediction. If the law is settled and obvious, of course that helps. But the best is when the prosecutor and I reach a settlement ahead of time. It happens more often than you might think, and it’s a rare judge who won’t follow a joint recommendation. And the more you appear in front of a judge, the more you learn each other’s preferences.
Also, building on the point before, if I’m in a brand new court with a brand new judge I’ll ask other practitioners what to expect ahead of time. I’m nerdy for information so it’s homework I like to do.
Q: Any other wishes for your readers? (nobody asked me this)
A: Yes, have a safe and happy holiday season and New Year! I look forward to meeting new people and continuing to fight the good fight in 2013.