Friday, November 6, 2009

It's a family thing

When we leave prison at the end of an afternoon of visits, we always need an escort.  There's usually some idle chit-chat on the walk back to the main entrance.  Some days, it's about the weather.  Every once in a while, we actually hear some insightful comments about prison life.  Some days we don't talk at all.

And then there's today.  As we walked out, the escort guard pleasantly asked how our client meeting had gone and we'd responded that it had been fine.  Then, he said, in that knowing, sarcastic tone, "Of course, they're all innocent, right?"  He thought we would join right in with the joking.  Boy, was he wrong.  You, prison guard, do not get to make broad-brush, negative generalizations about all of my clients and get me to play along.  Making such a comment will awaken my ranting public defender.

My co-counsel is as hard-core as I am, so she wasn't inclined to make pleasantries along this line, either.  We both waited a beat before figuring out how to deal with such an out-of-line comment.  Finally my co-counsel hit on some harmless, generic, but not agreeing response.  "Well, that's what I hear," he insisted on soldiering on.  "Most of 'em are innocent.  I've only ever heard two guys admit responsibility."

I'd found my tongue by now, so I blurted out, "Well, of course they're not going to confess to you."  I think by now he'd finally figured out that he'd stepped in it, so he offered a conciliatory, "I'm sure some of them actually are."  But now I was in full rant mode, quickly following his comment with a very stern, "There are more of them than we care to admit."  Thus ended his attempt to knowingly joke with us about our clients.

I am still surprised when people make comments like this to me, expecting me to just agree and laugh along.  These are my clients you're joking about.  I can't join in that joke.  I'm supposed to zealously advocate for my guys.  That call to advocate doesn't end when the appointment does.  My duty of loyalty isn't confined to the courtroom.  I am always on duty. 

Now, I may speak about clients with my fellow defenders, my brothers and sisters, but family can always do that.  When we say anything about our "guys," it's always said with love and understanding, even when we're expressing frustration.  It's safe because we all know what we do and why we do it.  Just like anyone within the family feels free to talk about Aunt Jane's drinking, but anyone outside that circle calls her a lush and they'll get a tongue-lashing. 

So, see, prison guard, here's the thing: you're not part of the family.  And as an outsider, I can't just let you stereotype all defendants.  I can't let you keep thinking that they're all irresponsible liars.  I'm just a defender by nature, so I'm going to fight those assumptions by the general public.  If you don't want to deal with the ranting public defender, maybe we should just stick with the weather.


Laci the Chinese Crested said...

We don't need to like our clients, only represent them to our best ability.

Unfortuantely, too many people have gotten the wrong idea from popular depictions of defense attorneys. They have this idea that we are "get out of jail free" cards.

Advertising doesn't help. The person I work with has some serious drivel on his website.

S said...

Of course we don't have to like our clients, but I would never let an outsider know which ones I like and which ones I don't. And, in truth, I have liked the vast majority of my clients.

Agreed completely on lawyer advertising.

Blog Designed by : NW Designs