Chapter 3: Aren't You Afraid to Deal With Those People?

Who are those people?

Until their son, uncle, dentist, or stockbroker gets arrested for something, most people assume that the people who get arrested are low-life degenerates who spend their days stealing from us and their evenings having sex with animals and downloading child pornography on the Internet. This hardly describes Martha Stewart, Kobe Bryant, Robert Blake, or your brother-in-law. In truth, almost anyone can find his or her way into the criminal justice system. Those folks who have been unlucky enough to get arrested come from all walks of life and should not be painted with the broad brush of being some kind of untermenschen!

But the Ivy League pedigree of your client does not mean they are going to be easy to deal with; often, the reverse is true. Most criminal defense lawyers will tell you they would much rather represent a career criminal or a guy from the street than a dot-com, hedge-fund yuppie with a big bank account. This is true for nay number of reason. The street guy has been through this process before. He knows that I am his only shot of staying out of jail, or at least minimizing his time. Regardless of his formal education, he is probably "court-wise" and knows he should tell me the straight story so we don't get surprised or sandbagged later on in the case. He may not be proud of his actions, but is generally not too embarrassed to tell me the whole story.

An interesting fact about the street criminal concerns who actually hires me. The hedge-fund guy, if he is locked up, send his family, friend, or real lawyer to meet with me, and pay me if they decide I am the one they want. The street guy sends his "people". His people may be relatives, but I often never get the real picture of who they are. It isn't really important, other than the fact that I must satisfy myself that they are not paying me with drug money or money that been stolen from the victim in the case at hand (or maybe from another victim of a previous crime).

Quoting and charging legal fees to rich clients is often an interesting experience. Every seasoned criminal defense knows that you have to quote and collect the fee up front. I often say that this exercise must be done while the client is till "in the SOUP." (You have to get them to write the check while they are still feeling the Sense of Urgency and Panic!) I am not making the case for taking advantage of people while they are behind the eight ball. It is just a fact of life that the prospective client values the lawyer's services a lot more immediately following the arrest process. He or she has had a taste of humiliation and pain of having been arrested. This "appreciation" of my worth to him will only last so long. If I don't get him to actually write that check immediately, I might be in trouble, as the status of my accounts receivable will be very far down on his list of priorities in the weeks and months to come.

How do we set fees? Most "real" lawyers charge by the hours. They bill the clients for their faxes, mailing, e-mails, lunches, telephone calls, and God only knows what else. Criminal lawyers generally do not follow this model. We tend to charge a flat fee. Most often the criminal lawyer will ask for a retainer for all his efforts up to trial, and then another feel for going tot trial. I usually charge just one fee. It covers everything: phone calls, court appearances, hearing, motions, and a trial if none is called for. I have found that clients would rather pay a lot of money right up front and that this is the whole deal, rather than be surprised as the bill keeps getting bigger. The proliferation of lawyer jokes is proof positive that we are not the most trusted group of people in society. Clients are skeptical of our charging them so much money per hour while we bullshit in the courthouses hallways with our friends, all on our client's dime. I try and take this fear off the table by telling the client that if I want to delay the case or come back to court another day to shop for a different judge, it is not costing them a penny more. I also like the ideal of allowing people to decide to go to trial without factoring in a large fee.