Oct 16, 2016 The art and benefit for a criminal defense lawyer to listen and engage
The life of a criminal defense lawyer challenges the lawyer’s daily schedule, with daily court dates, court filing deadlines, motions practice, trial preparation, trials, client meetings and phone calls, handling emails and other correspondence, dealing with prosecutors, rectifying scheduling conflicts, staying on top of developments in the law and in forensic science, handling law practice administration and finances, and bringing in new clients.
And I would have it no other way. The life of trial lawyering is never dull.
Recently after finishing a court hearing, in the courthouse cafe I bumped into a lawyer I have known for many years, and he invited me to sit down. From that brief talk, I realized how little I had previously known about him, and recognized again how little I know about so many people I have known for years. Otherwise, wouldn’t I have known, at the very least, that he meditates daily for years, when meditation and mindfulness are so meaningful to me?
When I got up to get to my next obligation, I told this colleague that I now know him better. He replied that he was happy we had a chance to talk, and that he often is simply seeing me scurrying from here to there.
Until my trial matter is done for the day, I do not tend to sit around much with colleagues to discuss anything other than the cases we want to brainstorm about. My focus simply is on my trial, and of course being responsive to when other lawyers want to discuss their cases, because we all become better when discussing how to get closer to winning.
Essential is always for me to welcome and invest the time in actively listening and engaging with my clients. Pearls of getting closer to victory often result when least expected through my spending sufficient time with my clients in my office, on the phone, in the courthouse after a hearing, or taking a walk together or spending time together in any other informal way. Some of our best ideas come when we are relaxed rather than feeling pressured for those ideas to come, which makes it all the more important for me to spend unhurried time with my clients.
With my typically billing my clients flat fees, they do not need to feel constrained that a resulting hourly bill will result for the time we talk. The fewer barriers my clients have in communicating with me, the better.
No matter how many clients I am defending at any one time, my opposing prosecutors handle ever more cases each year than I. They also need to be engaged and actively listened to. They need to know that it is in their interest to do so with me, rather than to have a lengthy trial result from our not putting our heads together to overlap our mutual interests as much as possible in seeking either to resolve the case or to disclose trial exhibits in advance of trial, and to stipulate in advance of trial to matters that do not need to be disputed.
As a criminal defense lawyer, I need to be ready to fully and beneficially listen to and engage with everyone involved in the case, including all defense and prosecution witnesses, the judge, and the jury. In conventional war, the successful army must effectively engage the opponent. In criminal defense, I must effectively engage both with my client and our allies, our opponents, and all other key people in the case.