When Your Lawyer Doesn’t Have Your Back
Martin Shkrell made the news earlier this year when his company raised the price of a drug used to combat toxoplasmosis by over 4,000%. His decision was lauded by some and decried by others. But maybe it made good business sense. I don’t know. I’m a criminal defense attorney, not a drug executive.
Mr. Shkrell did get into my wheelhouse when he was arrested earlier today for securities fraud. As a mere observer, I can engage in some harmless schadenfreude when a greedy person gets his. But only because I’m not his attorney.
My clients, and any criminal defense attorney’s clients, are often unpopular people. They’re accused of doing very bad things, and sometimes (not always) they have actually done them. But regardless, my clients know I always have their back. I don’t have the luxury, or the interest, of judging the people who have come to me needing help. I may be the only person in the world that will take their phone call, support them, and advocate they get to go home. And frankly, it’s an honor to do so. If you have ever been in a really tough spot, knowing you have someone in your corner can feel like an enormous weight off of your shoulders.
So it was with some amusement when I was sent this article. Nominally from Mr. Shkrell’s attorney, it purports to say the lawyer was raising his fees by 5,000%. Again, we all like to read stories of the arrogant getting a taste of their own medicine. It is funny but no lawyer should ever do that. Our clients depend on us, when they need us the most.
Unfortunately there was a real story of a lawyer who forgot the rule. Earlier this year police officer Michael Slager was charged with murder after shooting Walter Scott. As I highly recommend when charged with murder, Mr. Slager obtained an attorney. He hired attorney David Aylor, who began his representation by making factual statements about the case. A video came out a short while after, disproving those initial statements. And then Mr. Aylor dropped his client. And then, for whatever reason, he gave an interview about it.
There are a lot of problems with this. Talking to the media at the beginning of a high-profile case can be good strategy, but it can certainly backfire. Either way though, dropping your client at the moment things get tough is the antithesis of your job as an attorney.
There are times when a lawyer needs to leave a case. Conflicts of interest, medical reasons, even finding out you’re in over your head and you can’t do a good job, are legitimate reasons to get out. But because your client didn’t tell you the truth? Well, it happens. Clients are scared and sometimes they think if they can fool their lawyer it will turn out better (protip: don’t do this). But gosh, if you need to leave, don’t make it a noisy exit. How does that help the person who hired you? Frankly I’m surprised Mr. Aylor wasn’t disciplined for it.
So today my promise to you, clients past and future: I will have your back whatever your accused of doing, or actually did. If I need to leave the case I will do so as quietly and as effectively as possible so your case is not impacted by it. And I promise I will never, ever raise my rates by 5,000%.