Celebrating 10 years! 2007-2017

Taking on Public Defender Clients

I just started out in criminal defense and lately I'm findin saulgoodmanwannabe04/13/17
Just let it play out. You say you are new at it. A bunch o jeffm04/13/17
Read my recent posts in one of the still active threads from adamb04/13/17
Highly credited advice re: money. Usually, someone's pitchi sjlawyer04/13/17
http://www.jdunderground.com/all/th read.php?threadId=129761 adamb04/13/17
They're probably seeking you out for a second opinion. Most mrtor04/13/17
Credit to the responses about screening clients by phone. Yo mrtor04/13/17
Yes - free consults only by phone. Once you feel more sure t adamb04/13/17
The conundrum: Nobody wants to pay for a lawyer, but nobody anothernjlawyer04/13/17
I do a lot of criminal law. We have contracts with the state thirdtierlaw04/13/17
I realize that if the first words out of your mouth are "I'm anothernjlawyer04/13/17
I agree with this. You can give someone 10 free minutes to pauperesq04/14/17
Ah - the life story. adamb04/14/17
When I was in private practice I found that charging a modes ruralattorney04/14/17
My friend started charging for initial consults about 2 year jeffm04/14/17
Good call for them to contact private attorneys. I interned paulcrudd04/14/17
PDs have no incentive to win as they get paid a salary and g adamb04/14/17
The quality of PDs and PD offices varies pretty widely. Some flharfh04/14/17
saulgoodmanwannabe (Apr 13, 2017 - 9:49 am)

I just started out in criminal defense and lately I'm finding a lot of my potential clients calling in already have assigned counsel, either court-appointed or from the county public defender's office. Many of the appointed counsel are great lawyers and have been doing this kind of work before I was born.

What exactly are they seeking and is it even worth it to give a free consultation to them? After a few experiences meeting in person and quoting $750 for a misdemeanor and being told "that's too much," I'm starting to reevaluate offering my "free consults".

To get appointed counsel/PD, you have to file an affidavit listing all income sources and expenses and I'm doubtful of being paid $5,000 up front when someone states they're on SSI, have zero income, and live in one of the poorest ZIP codes in my area.

Is there a reason they're calling private attorneys?...second option?...upset their attorney is suggesting a fair plea bargain when there's mountains of evidence against them? Are these just difficult clients I should avoid communicating with altogether or am I being judgmental here and missing possible business?

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jeffm (Apr 13, 2017 - 9:58 am)

Just let it play out. You say you are new at it. A bunch of free consults is good training on how to make whatever adjustments you need to make to reel in the new business. You'd be surprised at how resourceful people are at coming up with money when they really feel they need it.

My guess is they consult private attorneys because of possible concern the "public" attorneys aren't good or are not motivated.

One of the things about appointed counsel is that the judges don't like to appoint attorneys who don't move cases efficiently. If you try cases, the judge is usually not too happy about that. This equates to pressure to plea.

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adamb (Apr 13, 2017 - 10:09 am)

Read my recent posts in one of the still active threads from the last few days for detailed explanation about what these clients want.

Don't meet with the clients without first fielding over the phone who will pay. Usually, it is mom or gf.

Talk about money in the first five minutes of the phone call. Just do it. Get good. Jeffm advice that is so true.

And whatever you do charge only market rate, maybe slightly cheaper. Lowering prices gets you the worst clients.

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sjlawyer (Apr 13, 2017 - 5:28 pm)

Highly credited advice re: money. Usually, someone's pitching in and you'll get off the phone fast if you talk about money pretty quickly. That or you'll get a nice retainer/payment on a flat fee.

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adamb (Apr 13, 2017 - 10:28 am)

http://www.jdunderground.com/all/thread.php?threadId=129761

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mrtor (Apr 13, 2017 - 10:30 am)

They're probably seeking you out for a second opinion. Most people don't like being told they have to accept a punishment, even if they have brought it upon themselves. They want someone who will promise them a miracle that cannot be delivered. Therein lies the difficulty with criminal law. Few clients are going to sign up if you tell them they don't have much of a case (and most don't). Successful practitioners have to be willing to (carefully and ethically) sell a rosy result to get clients to hand over their money.

That being said, free consultations are important to a new solo's practice. I cannot imagine you are truly busy enough to pass up every opportunity to sign up new clients, especially since you are so upset about a few clients walking away.

If anything, you need to learn how to effectively run a consultation to avoid wasting your time and your client's time. There is no sense in listening to them plead about every fact and circumstance of their case for a half hour, hour. Take control of the conversation. You need to elicit the important facts quickly and talk about the costs of the representation. You should be able to do this within 10-15 minutes. Further discussion should only occur after it is clear that they have the wherewithal to pay for your services. This isn't charity, its business.

Taking control will lead to better results and avoid frustration over lost time.

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mrtor (Apr 13, 2017 - 10:34 am)

Credit to the responses about screening clients by phone. You can hang up on a phone call very easily. It can be a lot more difficult, and time consuming, to conclude a personal meeting. Screen financial capacity by phone before you bring someone in for a free consultation. It will never be a perfect system, but it will save you a lot of time and headaches.

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adamb (Apr 13, 2017 - 3:33 pm)

Yes - free consults only by phone. Once you feel more sure that they have a source of payment, even an assigning of bail, meet in person. First thing to have them do - sign the retainer and get the money.

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anothernjlawyer (Apr 13, 2017 - 7:14 pm)

The conundrum: Nobody wants to pay for a lawyer, but nobody respects something they get for free.

Hence, people who get assigned a public defender want to get a second opinion from a "real lawyer" (PDs are badly unfairly stereotyped IMO), but they don't want to pay for it, so they call you for a consultation.

Screw "free consultations". You didn't go to school to listen to people complain for free. You should find out within 2 minutes on the phone whether they have the money to retain you. If they don't but still want a "second opinion" quote them a fee for a file / discovery review.

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thirdtierlaw (Apr 13, 2017 - 7:40 pm)

I do a lot of criminal law. We have contracts with the state for conflict work and I have a nice influx of private clients. Free consults are a must. As you pointed out, almost all of the prospective clients have assigned counsel already. You need to be able to sell yourself. People think poorly of public defenders, in reality they shouldn't, so they assume if they're paying money they'll get a better result.

Many of these clients have money. However those funds do not typically show up in their accounting to the judge and you really do not want to ask where it came from.

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anothernjlawyer (Apr 13, 2017 - 9:58 pm)

I realize that if the first words out of your mouth are "I'm charging you for this phone call!" you aren't going to get much business.

At the same time, I don't see the point of listening to 30 minutes of "my mom has cancer, I lost my job, my ex-girlfriend is a psycho, yada yada yada......and that's why the bottle of meth hidden between my butt cheeks wasn't mine.......and by the way do you do pro bono?"

When a prospective client calls, you can tell them before you listen to the whole meth explanation: "I don't want to waste your time or mine: hiring me or any private lawyer is going to require a financial commitment. Is that something you've thought about?" If the person has a promising response, set up short (30 min) no-cost, "sell yourself" meeting and try to close the deal. If they waffle, "aren't sure what they want to do," or "just have a few questions," tell them you aren't going to discuss the case in detail unless they either retain you to enter an appearance or want to pay you for a case review.

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pauperesq (Apr 14, 2017 - 10:44 am)

I agree with this. You can give someone 10 free minutes to explain what happened. You don't need to have your time wasted for the next 50 minutes listening to all the excuses why they shouldn't be punished.

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adamb (Apr 14, 2017 - 3:59 pm)

Ah - the life story.

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ruralattorney (Apr 14, 2017 - 8:15 am)

When I was in private practice I found that charging a modest fee for an initial appointment weeded out a lot of the junk clients. I didn't charge my full rate, but I charged enough to make sure that they weren't just looking for free advice.

If I lost a couple of clients because of that, oh well. It was worth weeding out the scores of people who would have taken up my time for no return.

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jeffm (Apr 14, 2017 - 11:29 am)

My friend started charging for initial consults about 2 years ago. He charges his usual rate of $300 per hour. He now comments he never knew how much money he was "giving away" by not charging. He also says he is much happier to do a consult than take on a new case. Of course, this makes sense, but if there's a fat retainer to be had, he still goes after it.

Quite often, the people wanting consults are going through a divorce and don't want to pay big bucks to a lawyer. Instead, they want to put the facts out and get a good opinion on what to expect as a fair settlement. So, he hears them out, gives them a fair analysis, collects his $300, and everyone is happy.

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paulcrudd (Apr 14, 2017 - 1:01 pm)

Good call for them to contact private attorneys. I interned at the Public Defender's office in 2L, and they'd give me cases they'd call "hopeless" just to give me practice speaking in court.

Turns out, if you put in an ounce of effort, you can actually win these "hopeless" cases. Who knew! I got some crap for doing that from my supervisors (and by "that" I mean "doing the job properly"). So I don't really blame clients looking for outside opinions.

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adamb (Apr 14, 2017 - 4:02 pm)

PDs have no incentive to win as they get paid a salary and get raises by seniority. At least sssigned counsel is paid by the hour. Private counsel is better IF they are knowledgable good criminal attorneys as they have a clear business incentive to win as often as possible.

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flharfh (Apr 14, 2017 - 4:31 pm)

The quality of PDs and PD offices varies pretty widely. Some PD offices are good but some, like Louisiana's, are underfunded trainwrecks. PD is also a gubmint job so there are inevitably some lazy lawyers just doing the bare minimum to get by until retirement.

Sure, if you get assigned an experienced, motivated attorney you'd be fine. But if you get a lazy do-nothing or an overworked newbie fresh out of school, you would probably seek a private attorney too.

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