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A Criminal Defense Attorney's "Job"

Recently, I won a medical marijuana case without even mentioning the words “medical” or “marijuana.” The experience, however, was anything but enjoyable and if I had known what I was getting into, I would never have taken the case.

It wasn’t the law of the case, or the issues involved, that made things difficult. It was the client. His point of view on “hiring an attorney” was that he paid good money for me. “Goddammit,” he frequently yelled, “I paid you; I’m the boss!”

But that’s not how hiring a lawyer works. Believe it or not, the “job” of a criminal defense attorney is not to do whatever his client wants, but to put on the best defense possible; to try to win the case. We’re trained for that. You’re not. That’s why you want us.

When I say, “You’re not” trained for that, I don’t intend to be mean or disrespectful to you. You’re also not trained to be brain surgeons. And, even if you were, operating on your own brain would not be wise. (The legal variation on this is “the attorney who represents himself has a fool for a client.”)

I’m writing this post because that client — whose case I won, remember — was not the first and probably won’t be the last who thought his payment of my fee meant that he got to call all the shots. I’m writing this post because, if you think that way, you’ll want another attorney. I’m not going to be as nice about this with the next person who tries calling me at 6 a.m., or 11:30 p.m., to question what I’m doing, try to force me to spend hours on the phone, and screams or yells obscenities to spice up the conversation.

When you hire an attorney, you’re hiring someone who has — allegedly — been through law school. Even a dumb attorney probably has learned more than your five-minute, five-day, or even five-month Internet search is going to teach you about handling your criminal defense.

If you disagree, represent yourself! That’s your right.

An analogy that pops into my mind is this: Can you imagine hiring a gunslinger in the Old West, but after hiring him, you decide you’re going to follow him around, help him draw the gun, hold onto his hand while he aims, and, with your finger over his, you pull the trigger when you think it needs to be pulled?

That’s just dumb. If you don’t want to trust the skills of the person you hired, either get another attorney, or handle your case yourself.

I’ve spent a lot of time working to get where I am. I went through years of school. I clerked under a good criminal defense specialist. I regularly pay good money for continuing education courses and consult with my peers — other attorneys who have done the same thing.

Do you really think your Internet education helps you better understand how to handle your case than my education and experience helps me handle it?

Then don’t hire me.

I’m a criminal defense attorney. That’s my job. If you want someone who can fight your case, call me.

If you need a babysitter, or someone who will do whatever you tell them to do, you’ve come to the wrong place.

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