Starting with a little free market theory, let’s assume that he who builds the best mousetrap will eventually dominate the mousetrap industry. (I don’t insist that this is so; just throwing it out there to start the post.)
It follows therefore, that in the service industry, the better services you provide, the more customers will come your way. Surely then, the best way to measure the worth of a lawyer is by the number of his clients.
From a Houston Chronicle article on overworked defense lawyers comes this line:
Some felony cases are resolved in minutes.
It’s a true statement, sad but true. I actually can't tell if the author of the article is using the factual accuracy of the statement to justify the result. According to the article, one lawyer in Houston has accepted representation of 360 felony cases or more, every year, presumably for years. In a recent post, “It All Adds Up To Incompetence”, Houston defense lawyer Paul Kennedy breaks down the math:
There are 52 weeks in a year and five working days in a week. That's a maximum of 260 days at the courthouse -- not counting holidays. That means that [this lawyer] accepts, on average, at least 1.3 felony cases a day, every day. There is no way a competent attorney can provide meaningful representation to his clients working that type of case load.
Paul is intentionally being generous. There are county holidays, of course, so the courthouse is not really open that often. And his math precludes even the remotest possibility that one in three hundred plus cases is tried, because for each of those you’d have to knock out another day or two on average, at a minimum.
He points out some of the things the minute lawyer can’t reasonably be expected to accomplish:
It is impossible to investigate a felony case in "minutes." It is impossible to determine whether there are any legal issues to litigate. It is impossible to analyze the factual evidence or to interview witnesses in "minutes." The only thing that's possible to do in "minutes" is to parade a client in front of a judge and have him branded a felon for life.
Let’s add some other improbabilities to the impossibilities list: reading the indictment; heck – for that matter – reading the police report, or at least scrutinizing it carefully in its entirety; having a long enough conversation with your client to get his side of the story; meeting with your client several times – which can be necessary to establish the amount of trust required between attorney and client; getting several, usually better-each-time offers from the prosecutor; the list boggles my mind. It’s almost endless.
Could it be that the mousetrap rule doesn’t hold true for criminal defense lawyering?