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Criminal defense clients are not to be kept at arms’ length

Fairfax criminal lawyer fully engaging with his clients and engaging in the courthouse battlefield

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When a criminal defense lawyer deals with his or her client at arms’ length, both get an arms’ length experience.

When a criminal defense lawyer fully embraces his or her client and the client’s cause while pursuing victory, then the magic can unfold and take hold.

Yes, it can be more time-involving and even risky for a criminal defense lawyer to let his or her hair down with the client, rather than to present a cool, collected, and distant veneer (of course, sometimes that only is a veneer). Yes, some clients will feel more comfortable with such a lawyer persona, or might at least think so at first blush, starting with not fearing that the distant lawyer will delve into learning about the client’s demons — along with the client’s assets and gems — that the lawyer needs to know about to know and fully relate with and defend the client.

If a lawyer does not fully engage with his or her client, where and when does the lawyer develop the skills and experience of powerful engagement? The courthouse battlefield is far from the place to start figuring out powerful engagement.

If I keep distant from a client, I do not fully know my client. (And to know others, I must also know myself, warts and all.) If I do not fully know my client, I cannot fully and persuasively convey to myself, the jury, the judge and the prosecutor who my client really is, how s/he got to this point of being prosecuted, why s/he is innocent (or else less culpable than charged, or worthy of a favorable outcome), and why at any sentencing the sanction should be as favorable as possible to my client. If I do not fully know my client, how do I like my client, or at least identify with my client? If I do not like or at least identify my client, how can others do the same?

If I keep a distance from my client, my client will not open up to me. I need my client to open up to me, so as to know my client.

When I do not keep a distance from my client, what happens when my client sets few if any respectful limits in dealing with me and my staff, for instance by being insistent that I respond right away to a phone call or email sent only moments ago when I am in trial; by barging into my office near my staff’s signing out time and insisting that on the spot they photocopy and return the original of two hundred pages of documents; or by continually questioning my motives and dedication to his or her case. The first example rarely happens, the second example and its variations have never happened, and the third example is rare, possibly in part due to the trust and openness that is developed between me and my clients by my not keeping them at arms’ length/pariah/object/customer-unit/widget level, but by fully defending my clients and by treating them with full compassion, empathy, respect, and mutual trust that we will work as a team.

Recently, a client was talking with me about our spectacular win in his case. I praised and thanked him for his positive energy and confidence in me throughout the case. Throughout my defense of this client, and in court, we were feeding off and benefiting from each other’s positive energy, and enjoying being with each other various times before his court dates.

Not all my clients are always riding on such positive energy. A gunshot wound victim rushed to the hospital emergency room is not exactly going to be all smiles and sunshine when removed from the ambulance, and a criminal defense client at risk with his or her liberty is not visiting me to talk about the latest football scores.

Many of my clients feel like they are on a roller coaster that they do not want to be on. That is to be expected with many of my clients, and when that happens, I still stay with them every step of the way, but without sitting on the roller coaster with them, because nobody can battle well while on a roller coaster. My clients’ funk does not need to be my funk, as I continually clear out any gunk in the way of obtaining victory.

By working with my clients in this way, my work continues to be exhilarating and rewarding, and certainly never dull and routine.