Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Advocating vs. Paternalism

Given that my client base is a little different than some, I may deal with the title issue a bit more. What does one do when the client has an interest that, in one's professional opinion, goes counter to their interests? Multiple use of the same word was intentional there, because in my experience some clients don't differentiate between their right to a hearing and the result of the hearing.

Me: "In looking at the file, I'm pretty sure the judge will give six months
in county jail with five years probation."
Client: "Yeah, he might, but he might not once we tell him how I love kids
and puppies."
Me: "Well, in my experience, having been here on similar charges before, I
know that's the standard sentence. If you take it to trial, you've already
admitted you did it and there's a signed confession that you already told the
court you willingly gave."
Client: "Sure, but that cooperation will work in my favor when you tell the
judge about it!"

Ok, so the Jamestown Lawyer made that exchange up. I actually deal more with this problem in civil law. It isn't the clients with the truly hopeless cases. Most often they are happy for someone to listen to them and explain what all the "herewiths" and "nothwithstandings" on the papers mean. It's the people with the kernel of a case. The ones being evicted for $1,000 in arrears who probably legitimately owe $750 but think the error means they ought to owe $0.

I suppose the part that bothers the Jamestown Lawyer, and the reason for the post to seek advice from practitioners, is that last hypothetical sentence. Whether it is an eviction, a criminal case or an admin hearing, the clients with marginal cases always seem to think that the reason they didn't prevail is bad lawyering. It gets frustrating after a bit.

Hence the desire to impose results on a client. To tell the client that this is how it is and there is no choice. It is unethical to step over that line and dictate to the client without offering input and information. It's also very attractive as an option when the client has repeatedly proven he/she, while competent in the legal sense, can't actually make an informed decision. These are the ones that take a frank discussion of litigation options and listen to only the parts where they win and retire in glorious riches.

So...where's the line? Layers, what do you do? Nonlawyers, what do you think?


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