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Criminal lawyers must not BS their clients, nor judge them, but defend them

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By Jon Katz, a criminal defense lawyer, drug defense lawyer, marijuana defense lawyer, and DWI/ DUI/ Drunk Driving lawyer advocating in Fairfax County, Virginia, Montgomery County, Maryland, and beyond for the best possible results for his clients.

A few months ago, I had a somewhat obscure point of drug defense that I raised on the NORML lawyers’ email listserv. One of the lawyers I was directed to has a website with an automatic video where he walks onscreen and exclaims: "I don’t judge you! I defend you!" He is not the only criminal defense lawyer using that phrase, which I fully ascribe to.

I also like Little Rock criminal defense lawyer John Wesley Hall’s website’s honest confirmation that: "We will not BS you about your case because we want no false ideas about what your case is, and we expect absolute candor in return."

The potential and actual criminal defense clients are legion who seek more reassurance than a lawyer can honestly give that all will conclude smoothly with their case. While my clients and I are ecstatic when we get a wonderful result, I can only promise that I will bust my butt for my client while incorporating my many years of relevant experience, passion, and know-how.

Many of my clients ask me numerous times on different occasions what my views are of the strengths and weaknesses of their case. Such questions are legitimate, particularly when considering that the client is not just dealing with case management, but on how the case will affect the defendant’s entire life, and particularly seeing that I continue getting new ideas and strategies about their case and new information. Some clients ask that question two or more times in the same week, before I have any new information or ideas. Sometimes they ask that question to assure that they have understood my answer. Other times they ask in the hopes that my view of their case as gotten more optimistic. Regardless of what motivates my clients’ questions, I do my best to listen and answer attentively, compassionately and patiently.

Criminal defense lawyers must resist any urge to paint overly-rosy pictures of defendants’ plights; to do otherwise clashes with the lawyer’s obligations as a lawyer and as a person. That is not to say that the lawyer should avoid powerful enthusiasm, tempered by reality, which is infectious both to the lawyer and his or her client. I much prefer that my clients come to court proceedings optimistic than in the doldrums. I prefer that the prosecutor see me and my client as a confident united front.

Defending rather than judging clients (first and foremost out of caring rather than for economic gain) and not BS’ing clients indeed is the only avenue for building true trust by the client in the lawyer. Criminal defendants who want to live in the land of fantasy, with overly rosy hopes for their chances in their case, always will exist. Any lawyer who feeds those fantasies for any reason — including to convince the defendant to hire the lawyer — is disserving the criminal defendant, the lawyer’s colleagues, and society.