You are the Captain
One aspect of my practice areas is that I deal with people who haven’t worked with lawyers very often, if ever. Some people interact with lawyers all the time, like real estate agents, music moguls, or judges I guess. But for people who are charged with a crime like a DUI, it’s often their first time in the criminal justice system.
As part of our initial meeting, I explain the roles the lawyer and the client have in the representation. Since so many of my clients have been surprised (and gratified) by this explanation, I thought I would share it today.
The essence is simple: The Client is the Captain. The client is in charge and the lawyer is the merry crew. I, as the attorney, will give advice about good paths to take and rocks to avoid but the client is the one that decides the destination, and ultimately, how to get there.
I’ve occasionally been asked by a client (early in the representation) not to sign a plea deal for them without asking them first. I always spit out my coffee at this, because it so badly misconstrues the fundamental distribution of authority in the relationship. If the client wants to talk about a plea, I’ll certainly work with them to accomplish that. But if they want to go to trial? We go to trial, and I start preparing for that. The idea that I would (or could) bind a client to a plea deal behind their back is anathema to our respective responsibilities.
And that’s the other half of the equation. Both the lawyer and the client have certain responsibilities to make sure that ship reaches its destination in one piece. I’ve written a lot in these pages about roles and tasks I complete in navigating those treacherous legal waters. For this week’s post, here are five jobs the captain needs to fulfill too.
- Tell your attorney everything that happened.
Everything a client tells their attorney is privileged and confidential. It is, I believe, the strongest privilege that exists in our legal system. And it’s that strong because our system relies so heavily on clients being able to tell their attorney everything, without fear of scandal or disclosure or retribution.
But the reason it’s so important to share is that your attorney needs to have all the information to do their job effectively. An attorney is trained to find issues in cases that a lay person may miss; those issues can be good or bad. But in either case it’s much, much better to know about those issues in advance, rather than at the 11th hour. It might be embarrassing, it might even be criminal, but share everything about an incident with your attorney. Don’t blindfold your navigator. Being able to see the whole map is how they do their job.
- Keep your attorney informed of new developments.
Besides telling them of everything that happened, tell them of new case developments, too. This could happen if a witness recants their story or new evidence turns up or there’s something brewing in the rumor mill. It might be nothing of course, but maybe it is something. How will your attorney know what do with it if you don’t tell them?
- Check with your attorney before doing something that affects the case.
This comes up now and then. A client has an idea to do something helpful, like write a letter to the prosecutor (not helpful), write a letter to the judge (bad), or write a letter to the victim (really bad). Once in a great while they’ll come up with an idea to delete an incriminating email or otherwise dispose of something untoward. Their plan is usually detrimental, and sometimes a felony besides. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if there’s something helpful for the case, the attorney is usually on top of it.
Which is not to say a client can’t or shouldn’t share an idea with counsel. I certainly rely on my clients for input during a case. But have that conversation before you take action.
- Don’t come to court with drugs or alcohol.
This has come up a lot less since I left public defense, but it’s still worth including here. Don’t come to court drunk. Don’t come to court with drugs (even if they’re legal). It’s often a violation of a release condition but even when it’s not, it sends a very poor message to the players. It’s just, it’s just a bad idea.
- Do your homework.
Almost all cases require some investigative work. The attorney does a lot of it, but some needs to be done by a client too. Things clients may need to do is find some emails, get a substance evaluation, get a copy of a lease agreement, etc. There are some tasks a client is best suited to accomplish. But any assignments the attorney gives the client is usually very relevant for the case ending well, and should be taken seriously.
I know, you got a lawyer so you didn’t have to think about the case anymore. But you’re the captain. The attorney does a lot of the heavy lifting, but the client still has to be responsible too. That means showing up on court dates, staying out of trouble, gathering documents, not coming to court with a syringe of heroin…
Ultimately everyone works together to get the job done. The client sets the destination and the lawyer charts the best course. When everyone works together it’s smooth sailing. If you’re charged with a crime and need some help to chart a course to Dismissal Island, give us a call today!