Monday, August 25, 2008

Are you following rule #1?

When I talked to the Exec. Director of the Nebraska Criminal Defense Attorneys Association last week and described how I recently passed the one year mark on starting my own practice, she told me a story.

When a new lawyer couldn't find a job out of law school and started his own practice, he came to court with his first criminal client. After the arraignment, the crusty old judge glared down at the young lawyer and asked, "Did you remember to comply with Rule Number One?" The lawyer stumbled over his words, wondering whether the judge was referring to the Local Rule he hadn't bothered to read and fearful that he'd look bad in front of his first client, like he didn't even know even the first rule.

"Umm, I'm not sure I know which rule you're referring to, your honor," he mumbled, shuffling through the papers as if he might find it there.

"Rule Number One, son," the judge said, "The one rule that all attorneys need to know to be successful in the practice of law; you don't know that rule?" The courtroom fell silent.

"No, your honor. I'm sorry. I guess I not aware of that particular rule, but I'll review it and comply with it the next time I'm before you," said the new lawyer, wondering where he'd even begin to look for this rule.

"You won't find that rule in any book," boomed the judge, obviously intent on teaching the new lawyer a lesson he'd never forget in front of the entire courtroom who looked on, wondering, as he did, what the rule meant.

"Rule number one," whispered the judge, "is to get paid first, before you come to court."

I heard some version of this rule many times, but still haven't complied with it very well. I have at least learned something over this year, albeit the hard way, however, and find it a lot easier to say no now than when I first started out, remembering all the time I spend dealing with people whose checks are in the mail, who are getting paid next week, or whose relative will bring me a check on the first of the month.

I'm still kind of a sucker for a sob story, but I'm trying to follow the rule.

1 comment:

Glen Graham said...

You might ask "WWJD"? Of course, it is a "conflict of conscience" when you accept a case without sufficient payment in advance. You should have a written agreement for payments. If the client has steady employment, then there is a stronger possibility of being paid in payments. Each person is different and each type of offense is different and each situation has to be evaluated on its individual merits. Occasionally, all lawyers handle a pro-bono case whether intentional or accidental. It is the nature of the business world and life in general, to not always get paid, but if you never get paid, you won't be in business very long. A friend once asked me, do you think that person would have paid you if they were able to pay you? So, maybe they just don't have the money and they are not mis-treating you intentionally? It is said that one dissatisfied client can cost you 10 good clients, and one good satisfied client can cause you to gain 10 good clients. It is always a balancing act and survival and success in the practice of the profession of law is not easy.
Yours in the Defense of Fellow Human Beings,
Glen R. Graham, Tulsa Criminal Defense Lawyer, Tulsa, Oklahoma