Recently I was wrapping up a client meeting in my office. The case was going well. We got together to discuss updates and talk about a plan of attack for the remainder of the issues. The client seemed happy with how things were going and said as much. But then as he was packing up to head home, he said really took me aback:
“I know you’re doing good work Noah but I’ll bet lawyers like you are hoping people like me get in trouble again so you can bill me another time for another case.”
It was an odd comment because it seemed like he felt I wanted him to fail. And I didn’t think any part of our work together had given that impression.
“Oh no, I think you’re doing good work. I just know you’re happy when people get in trouble.”
And that was the crux of the issue. My work does indeed revolve around people being in a bad place and needing a lawyer. If crime was wiped off the map, I would need to find a new job. Which is a small price to pay for world peace, but still.
Luckily(?) it doesn’t look like crime is going extinct any time soon. Or more accurately, it doesn’t look like people being accused of committing crimes is going away any time soon. As long as people are being accused, they need attorneys to defend their rights in the complex and sometimes heartless criminal justice system.
I don’t think of my job as exploiting people in dire straits. I think of my job as advocating for people in trouble. And I don’t think I can do my job if I secretly hope they get in trouble again. It’s stressful, sometimes cruel, to be a criminal defendant. In 1977 the United States Supreme Court noted filing charges against someone entails “awesome consequences.” Ask people who were charged with crimes for the first time: they probably wouldn’t wish it on their worst enemy.
I was thinking about the breakdown of my clientele for this post. By my rough estimate, maybe 40% are well and truly innocent and maybe 59% are people who have made either their first mistake or have an untreated dependence or mental health issue that led to their charges. There’s a tiny remainder for “career criminals” who I would think are likely to commit new crimes. And even then, they would probably benefit from counseling.
For the other 99% I expect our work together ensures they won’t be facing these awesome consequences again. For unequivocally innocent ones we can talk about how they found themselves in the position. Bad luck? Thrown under the bus by someone else? For the people who made a mistake or need treatment, we also talk about what led to the situation. Sometimes treatment is needed and I’m more than happy to assist a person getting involved with services. I prefer they don’t do so under court authority because lapses risk jail time. But if that’s what’s necessary to achieve the best result, and it often is, that’s ok. The point is, every single case necessitates looking at how these charges came about. By extension, every single case is also looking how it won’t happen again.
So if I don’t want my clients to get dragged back into the system, how do I generate revenue. Here’s my business model: Do excellent work for my clients and hope they tell their friends and family: “Noah helped me out of a jam.”
Last month I celebrated another anniversary of my practice so it seems the model is working so far. If you or someone you know is in a jam and needs the help of a criminal defense lawyer, feel free to give me a call.