Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Lawyers and Clients

Albany Lawyer had an interesting post the other day, giving his perspective on the mindset and expectations of some clients.

If I were to nitpick anything, it might be his perception of the quality of lawyers taking those small-time traffic cases. I would just hesitate to comment on the quality of the lawyers taking those cases, as my mind just always seeks "more to the story." For example, in my previous job I was 80% with an organization and had a small private practice. Something with a high rate of return, like traffic tickets, was perfect for my practice. I couldn't undertake complex personal injury cases or the like, working from a home office, and I didn't want to take felony/misdemeanor criminal defense cases and let them know where I lived. But then again, I do know lawyers who piece together a livelihood from smaller cases like that and, well, sometimes you do get what you pay for.

The main thrust of this post was going to be on the perceptions of clients. As I stated before, there was a time when I did most of my work from within an organization providing legal assistance to poor people. I'm sure every lawyer has horror stories about clients, but I have a three volume set bound in day-old newspaper and smelling of body odor. It's not only the lack of gratitude, although that's a huge part of it. It's mainly the perception that, as someone offering a free service, that I and my coworkers were somehow servants at their beck and call. Do you take your car to the mechanic, pull right into the bay, and scream at the mechanic until he starts working on your repairs? Do you walk right into the examining room and demand the doctor treat you the moment you get to the office? Then why (and I'm not really blaming *you* personally) do they act like this towards a legal services lawyer?

And I must also work into this two of my other pet peeves. There are the people, frustrated and without a lot of options, who lash out at their lawyer as part of some monied elite who doesn't understand. Because, in their minds, "lawyer" equals "rich." Yes, I drive a ten year old car with 105,000 miles on it and wear the best JC Penney has to offer because I prefer to keep my millions at home to roll around in the wads of cash at night. The other demanding group was always those who had once had some money, mostly middle class people hit by tough times. More often than not, they wanted to prove they "weren't poor" by bragging about how much they had made or could make and typically had a very condescending attitude, as if trying to reassure themselves of their innate superiority.

Which isn't to say I haven't had decent clients who needed help and appreciated they fact they were receiving a free service. The broader perception that a legal aid lawyer isn't only an entitlement, but a servant, just seems a lot more prevalent.

Cheers to private practice!


Blogger Albany Lawyer said...

Thanks for mentioning my blog. I was not making any comment about the quality of lawyers taking small-time traffic cases. I handle a lot of them, and know some very good lawyers who handle those cases.
My point was that most lawyers have more important things going on in their practice. Your situation is unusual in that you do 80% of your time in a more regular job. Nevertheless, I would bet that you have other matters in your organization that are more important than a ticket for 81 mph in a 65 mph zone. The typical local court traffic lawyer also handles DWI cases, other misdemeanors, and maybe even the occasional low level felony.

9:00 PM  

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