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What if we treated clients as family members?

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How many doctors and lawyers do you know who keep their patients and clients at arm’s length? I see it all the time. Does it come from habit, training, observation of colleagues, assumptions, wrong analysis, or a combination of some or all of them.

For me best to assist my clients — and for me to perform my best as a lawyer and live the best as a human — I must engage with clients, with everyone else, and with every aspect of life. That is the only way truly to know what is going on in life and to be effective in dealing with work and life. So many people disengage by turning to aloneness, and by turning to abuse of alcohol, drugs, the Internet and other self-abusive behaviors.

Many clients and potential clients tell me they have never consulted with a lawyer before, and are not sure how to behave with a lawyer. I believe strongly in dealing with my clients as human to human, not in the role of lawyer in a rarefied office dealing paternalistically or all knowingly with the client. My clients are essential for me to know what I need to know in order effectively to defend them. How else can I truly relate to them, know what they want out of my services and their cases, and have a better picture of what really happened in their cases, as well as how they arrived to that point in their lives, where they came from before the day of their arrest, and where they might and will go from here?

Do some clients and potential clients take more comfort in what they perceive as a more traditional learned lawyer-compliant client role? Initial comfort may come with familiarity. However, good criminal defense often is about unconventional warfare from the defense side. Some great guidebooks, videos, and seminars might exist on becoming a better lawyer, but at the end of the day, a good outcome in criminal defense requires in-the-moment combat and preparation for that combat.

Law school heavily teaches conventionality, being cerebral at the expense of the heart zone, thinking dispassionately, and arguing both sides of a dispute with equal effectiveness. Good criminal defense calls for a lawyer to be fully human; to immerse himself or herself fully into the defense and the client’s cause; to summon full passion, compassion and empathy; and to find the extra, powerful oomph from knowing that the lawyer is on the side of the angels. Consequently, with law school, as with everything else, it is best to take what works, and leave the rest.

How blessed I am to be my own boss, following my own passion and gut without looking over my shoulder in case a boss tells me I am bonkers to care so much about my clients, to engage so closely with them, and to treat them with as much respect, caring and openness as I would with family members.

How much more meaningful is my life that I treat each client as a whole, unique person, to learn from, to work with as a team, and often to enjoy each other’s company. We are all connected. When we live and work with an understanding of and engagement with that connectedness, many apparent barriers in life will disintegrate, and success in work, for clients, and in life will grow exponentially.