For my criminal defense clients, I am here to help them get back to harmony and balance from the imbalanced situation of their prosecution.
My clients manage this imbalance in ways, ranging from equanimity, to trying to submerge their concerns, to sleeplessness, to often starting from square one in speaking with me, to being nervous wrecks, to being a combination of these things.
When I am at my best, I can help my clients feel more calm not merely by their knowing that my staff and I are covering the essential bases for them, but also by my being powerfully calm and compassionate with my clients, by my giving them my full time and attention, and by my clients seeing that I am unflappable in the face of their tension and in the face of any bows and arrows coming from prosecutors, judges and opposing witnesses.
Some clients ask the same set of questions several times. I encourage them to ask questions, but sometimes tell them that my answer to a repeated question will not have changed from the last time I answered it, and then offer to answer the question anyway, because sometimes my client simply wants to hear the answer again to absorb and understand it. Some clients hope that my answer will change to a more optimistic appraisal of their situation, and will interrupt my answer when dissatisfied with the answer.
If I wanted always cheerful and calm clients, I could choose to work at an island paradise hotel. Clients hire me to fix big hurdles as best I can. Watching my clients along the way can be an experience in observing their dealing with some of the deepest depths of their feelings.
My work with unsettled clients must be child’s play in many ways compared to what emergency room physicians must constantly deal with in helping patients and their loved ones make tough choices over risky medical procedures. I remember visiting someone in the hospital, and talking with the parents of a man who had just been in an awful motorcycle accident. Their son was unconscious, and they had been tasked with deciding between surgery that might kill him, or leaving things as they were, which might also have led to death. Imagine the calmness, compassion and patience that this man’s doctor needed in working with the parents to make an informed decision on proceeding with surgery or not.
As we approach the trial date, it is important that an unfocused client become more focused. I have had some clients who repeatedly start from square one when we talk, to the point that I sometimes need to tell them that we are running out of time to cover the remaining essential ground ahead. When my client knows I am actively listening to, remembering, internalizing, and giving credence to what s/he is saying, we are in a better position to move forward.
Sometimes a client tries to avoid moving forward in our conversations, when that forces the client to be face-to-face with the risks and challenges that s/he is actually facing in the case. This reminds me of an amazing trial workshop/psychodrama session that I attended fourteen years ago, where psychodramatist Don Clarkson worked with a lawyer defending a man in a capital case (the man ultimately avoided the death penalty) and the defendant’s mother; the defendant was jailed pretrial.
Don started asking the mother some questions, and she ultimately said: "I cannot do this." In Don’s own masterful way, he put his hand on her shoulder, and reassured her "This is the perfect time." Reassured, the woman moved forward with Don.
When I had my most challenging client who repeatedly started at square one when speaking with me — in a serious personal injury case, when I handled more of such cases — Don sat down with me and my then-law partner Jay Marks at my request, and started off not by asking about the client, but about how things were going for us, just two months into our then new partnership in 1998. It all starts with me in dealing with my clients. Don ultimately suggested that I arrange to spend time with my client in more comfortable and familiar surroundings than my law office, for instance taking a walk in the park, and for me to ultimately share with him how much I care about him, and how concerned I was about the outcome of his case if we kept starting from square one. Don was right, even though such an approach is not always an instant recipe for fixing all such hurdles.
Unlike the emergency room physician, I have more time available to spend with my clients. That time must be made. One thing I love about being my own boss is that I have no boss pressuring me to reduce the time I spend with my clients in order to serve a high volume of clients. I keep my number of clients moderate.
Some medical doctors might find comfort in having their doctor’s uniform as a barrier between them and their patients. I find that I move forward with my client more beneficially when I remove those barriers.
If I feel that I am getting stuck with my client at a critical crossroads, it is not sufficient for me to advise my client ways to get unstuck, but for me to assure that I am not stuck either, and that I do not feel stuck.
I am in this fight together with my client. I must constantly work on improving myself as I encourage my client to be the best s/he can be, as well, in our fight for justice.