Friday, October 16, 2020

The Idealism of the Legal Twitterverse

 Oh, dear Lord.  I've hauled off and pissed off the Twitterverse.

Not in the normal way, like when I'm fully intending on pissing off people.  I did this one on accident.

Yesterday was a frustrating day in general.  We had a family emergency that required my wife to go out of town unexpectedly and I was trying to do Zoom hearings while keeping my 6-year-old and my 14-year-old on task with their online classes.  At one point, while Zooming into a court and setting a case for trial, the judge mentioned that I seemed relaxed and comfortable.  It was then that I looked down and realized I hadn't changed into a collared shirt for my Zoom hearings (as I normally do).

Instead, I was wearing a Drive-By Truckers concert t-shirt that read "Hell No, I Ain't Happy." I changed and went outside for my next Zoom setting because I didn't want to disturb the kids' classes.  While sitting on my front porch, a lizard ran up my leg.  It was just one of those days where there was a lot going on and nothing seemed to be going right.

In the middle of all the chaos, a former client that I had represented earlier in the year called my answering service and left a message that he needed me to find his probation officer's phone number because he'd lost his phone (and thus, the number).  A little bit later, he called again wanting to know why I hadn't called with the number yet.

Feeling frustrated, I took to Twitter with the following observations:


Now, this didn't exactly seem to be all that damning of a message, in my opinion.  

The Twitterverse disagreed.  I mean they REALLY disagreed.

I got bombarded by attorneys from around the country who were just incensed -- incensed, I tell you -- that I would make mention of the fact that I found a former client's inability to find a phone number without his lawyer to be a "more frustrating element of the job."  The crowd, which as near as I can tell is comprised largely of public defenders from around the country, have gleaned from this Twitter posting that 1) I hate all of my clients and 2) that I should quit my job posthaste.  The true "most frustrating" thing should be nothing less than an ongoing war against the oppressive, lying, cheating, 4th Amendment-eroding prosecutors, who are constantly seeking to imprison the masses.

I replied to a couple of these young and idealistic folks at first but eventually realized this was a futile effort.  So, I decided that I would respond with this post as a group response to those attorneys who are so helpfully trying to help me reevaluate my career path.

So, let me be clear with this message to my newest Twitter fans:

Grow. The. Hell. Up.

The job of a criminal defense attorney is frustrating on a daily basis at times, and if you haven't experienced that then you aren't doing it right.  

It doesn't matter if you're representing Charles Manson or a Santa Claus.  Clients are human and humans tend to frustrate each other from time to time without meaning to.  

I mean, hell, look at how much I seem to be frustrating Twitter.

I can honestly say that on the whole, the vast majority of the people I've represented over the years have been great to work with. I've represented some really nice people who were charged with some really horrible things.  I've also represented some really difficult people charged with really minor things.  Pretending that every last client I've ever represented has been nothing less than an utter delight is as silly as it is disingenuous.  

If you believe that every client you have ever represented has been nothing less than an angelic, non-frustrating victim of an unjust system, then you are either: 1) very lucky;  2) very naive; or 3) very new to this job.  If your unbridled optimism about your job is because of option 2 or 3 on that list, you are going to get run over by a prosecutor, a judge, or a jury who doesn't share your opinion.

To my new fanbase on Twitter, the trick to being a defense attorney isn't never being annoyed with your clients -- it's working your ass off for them no matter how annoyed you find yourself.  

Because believe me, in this job you're going to be annoyed.  

You're going to be annoyed by that client who has ignored and failed to return every one of your phone calls for a month but calls you at 4 a.m. to ask if he's got court that morning.

You're going to be annoyed by that client who has a completely winnable case right up until the moment he just doesn't show up for court and draws a completely unwinnable bond jumping case.

You're going to be annoyed by that client who files a grievance against you because you didn't get him a probation offer on his third aggravated robbery.

You are going to be annoyed by that client who tells you that you never once told him that he couldn't smoke meth while on bond.

You are going to be annoyed by the client who accuses you of "not working for me" or "working for the prosecutor" every time you tell them something they don't want to hear.

Every time some completely unnecessary obstacle to success comes up, you are going to be annoyed.

And guess what.

That's okay.

Because sometimes you can use those moments of annoyance to actually tell them that you're frustrated with them.  You can even build from that frustration and tell them that they need to learn to be responsible for some things that their lawyer wasn't meant to handle -- like say, being a telephone directory.  Tell them that you expect more out of them because the prosecutor, the probation officer, the judge, the jury, their family, their boss, their teachers, or the world is going to expect more of them.

It has been my experience that when I've done that, most have risen to the occasion.  Despite the angry protestations of the Twitterverse, lawyers cannot actually do clients' probation for them.

So, just for some background (not that I owe it to the Twitterverse), that client that I was annoyed with yesterday was a former client.  He's an older guy that I busted my ass to get out on a PR bond because he was at higher risk for COVID in the jail.  I also busted my ass getting him a deferred adjudication despite his priors, and a misdemeanor deferred at that.  We dealt with a lot of bond issues together before that happened and I told him that he was both grumpy and needy, and he laughed.  Despite being frustrated yesterday, I still called him back and told him to call the court to get the information he needed, because I didn't know it and I wouldn't be able to get to it that day.  He thanked me and we moved on.

Despite the Twitterverse's assumptions, I actually like him quite a bit.  He's got some piss and vinegar in him that is oddly endearing.

But yesterday, he was frustrating me.  Shit happens.

When I first meet a client, one of the first things that I tell him or her is that I will never sugarcoat anything.  I'll sometimes give them a choice of whether they want me to tell them what they want to hear or tell them what they really need to know.  I have yet to have the client who picked the former over the latter.  The same, apparently, cannot be said for Twitter.

In an odd moment of karmic coincidence, I got a message this morning on Facebook from a different former client.  He was a guy I represented a couple of years ago on a couple of different things and at the time, he did more than his fair share of frustrating me too.  We went round and round on some of his responsibilities and expectations.  But I worked my ass off on his case like I do on all my clients' cases, whether they are frustrating or not, and ultimately, it worked out pretty well for him.

His message this morning told me that he'd gotten his shit together, stayed out of trouble and that on Monday, he was getting to see his kid again for the first time in two years.

Sometimes, that frustration you feel and share actually leads to somebody living up to the expectations that they should be living up to.  There is nothing more uplifting than watching a client pull out of a tailspin.

Moments like that happen more often than you would think.

When they do, you are reminded that the most frustrating job in the world is, more often than not, the best one.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Twitter doesn’t represent real life and those criticizing you have obviously never met you or know your reputation as an advocate.

Anonymous said...

You have the right to vent. You have the right to have a bad day. It wouldn’t have mattered what you put on Twitter in this day and time, people still turn it around and make everyone else the bad guy. Everyone has a bad day. Your former client will probably never know you were frustrated. The legal profession, maybe every profession for all I know; we are polite on the phone to everyone, We do the best we can, but we may take out our frustration after we hang up the phone. That goes for the attorneys, the paralegals, legal assistants and receptionist. It is hard listening to people day in and day out that are unhappy and all we are trying to do is help.

I have followed you for years and really enjoy your writings/stories. Thank you for taking the time out of your day to do them.

Anonymous said...

Excellent reply! The criminal lawyering profession is like that of the law enforcement practitioners who’s clients are the elected officials and the public at large who live in the tweetersphere and Murray is like the “Good Cop”.

JimVAT said...

If I was a criminal, I would want you advising me on the best course of action.

I am not a criminal - no plans to make that change. Regardless, I am actually thinking of either writing your cell number in permanent ink on my arm or getting a tattoo with the same. To make it not visible, perhaps in a mirror image on my chest or back. Kidding/not kidding.

Anonymous said...

I used to be a criminal defense attorney and I agree with everything you said. I don't know a defense attorney who doesn't. But I did get into a nasty social media fight with a public defender in another state when I posted something similar to what you said. I'm not sure there's a more self-righteous bunch out there and they need to get over themselves because I'm sure they have clients who get on their nerves every once in a while too.

Rebeles said...

Good lord! I’m with you grow the hell up. I’m also thinking if your client didn’t have his phone howd he find your number? 🤔 Use Google it can find most anything, Jesus! Well maybe except Jesus 😂

Anonymous said...

Twitter and Facebook are cancer.

Tom said...

When we take a client, civil or criminal, retained or court appointed, we aren't taking them to raise and we sure aren't agreeing to be their general counsel for life. At some time, the client becomes a former client and our obligations to him end for most purposes (yes, we still may have to send him his file and for practical purposes, we do some small things for them when we have the time).
That's why I am very specific in my contracts with retained counsel in what I am agreeing to do for them. It's either in the contract or it isn't.

Anonymous said...

People who confuse twitterverse with the real world are in for disappointment. Most people aren't on twitter; don't care about twitter; don't have time for twitter.

Murray Newman said...

Tom,
I agree. In this case, it was an appointed case, so there wasn't a contract. I probably should have been more clear as to why I found it frustrating when I posted the tweet.

When I'm actively representing a client, I'm pretty accommodating to almost everything as long as the client isn't being an utter disrespectful jackass to me. I will take calls at all hours of the day and night, and make calls that help simplify things for a client. But at some point, after a case is disposed of, the baby bird needs to leave the nest.

My former-client wanted "his probation officer's number." Well, I don't know who his probation officer is nor do I have a number to give him. Trying to track it down would be no easier for me than it would be for him. This particular client had gotten very used to me doing everything for him when his case was pending and I didn't mind that. However, when I'm in the middle of a court setting for another client, I'm not in the mood to play phone directory for someone completely capabale of looking up something himself.

Anon 4:22 p.m.,

I agree, but I was still frustrated with the Twtitter villagers coming after me with their pitchforks. But then, I saw that one of them had posted that I was a hack lawyer who could never represent those accused of crimes because I'm white. It was then that I realized how ridiculous it was to be upset about twitter, because that particular poster was also white and worked for an all white firm in Wisconsin doing criminal defense.

Anonymous said...

👍

Anonymous said...

👍