Late on a Thursday several years ago I was waiting for an after hours appointment that was a few minutes late. And it had been a long week already.
The potential new client(PNC) arrives and we sit down to chat about his case. He’s about to be indicted in Travis County for felony DWI, and he’s going around interviewing lawyers to see who he wants to hire. Fair enough, that’s what free consultations are for.
The PNC always gets to go first, and tell me what happened, after all, how am I supposed to weigh in before I know anything about the facts? So after glossing over the “night-I-was-arrested” portion – usually a signal that I can’t expect too many good facts – he mostly wants to talk about his three misdemeanor priors.
Again, fair enough, because the why-it’s-a-felony-this-time, and the what’s-different-about-that-than-last-time spiels often take up a good portion of an enhanced DWI intake session. Except his sole concern is explaining to me that it’s not going to be a felony this time around because one of his priors was in Louisiana and he’s going to get a pardon, or some sort of post conviction dismissal, or something of that nature.
I gently hint that since the D.A. is only going to need two usable priors to enhance us to a felony DWI, that maybe we shouldn’t waste too much time worrying about how many different ways the prosecutors could make this a felony, but instead that we focus on the task at hand.
I may have also hazarded an off the cuff opinion that the pardon process in Louisiana, if it’s anything like Texas, is an unlikely out, but one that we can look into. Ohhhhhhh no. It’s a sure thing, says PNC, and he launches into various explanations of how his lawyer told him about it when he plead guilty (un huhn, that may have happened, but it sounds fishy at best) and how he has since researched it on the internet and it’s true (don’t believe anything your read on any lawyer site on the internet, much less mine) and the out of state prior is no good, so it won’t be a felony.
Again, I tell him only two are necessary, but looking into the validity and usability of priors is part of my job on any enhancement, whether the client has a theory about it or not. (Did I mention the long week, the fact that I set up a special time to meet with this fellow? But he won’t let it go, and it’s starting to wear on me.)
We talk more about various issues, by which I mean he asks questions, I start to answer, he interrupts, contradicts me, moves on to a new topic. Pretty sure he wants me to say I'm going to go into court, wave my magic wand, and the whole thing will automatically disappear; lawyers who promise the moon in the first 15 minutes exist, but I'm not one of them.
Seemingly not satisfied with my responses so far, the PNC roots around in the stack of papers on his lap and pulls out a couple of sheets that I can see – even from my upside down vantage point – were printed off of a website. And here comes the “what-to-ask-a-lawyer-before-you-hire-him” list, which of course is always 100% favorable to the website owner, but meant to catch the unsuspecting by surprise.
I’ve been through this with folks before, and again I want to emphasize this: I don’t mind the grilling, you’ve got a right to be extra careful when making one of the most important decisions ever. So the list begins: how long practicing, what percentage of cases are DWI, when was your last jury trial, etc., etc., and then… he gets to this one:
Why should I hire you instead of Alan Bennett?
I’m not sure I’ve fully conveyed the extent to which I had not been able to get a word in edgewise with this fellow up to this point, and perhaps it was just the mood I was in at the time, but I heard him ask the question in an uber-aggressive, even a snotty tone of voice.
Also, I’m (a) not always comfortable tooting my horn, and (b) pretty damn sure Alan is a good choice anytime you need a criminal defense lawyer in Austin. If a PNC asks my opinion of another lawyer, I’ll usually say something nice about them, or nothing at all, and Gunter & Bennett is in the former category, and by a long shot.
I said the first thing that came into my head:
First the PNC had a look of shock, until it dawned on him: Jamie must have misheard the question, so I’ll repeat it, with the appropriate amount of emphasis so that he gets it this time:
PNC: I said why shouldn’t I hire you instead of Alan Bennett?
Me: You shouldn’t. Alan is a great lawyer, I’m sure he’ll do a fantastic job for you.
The only other thing I remember as I was shuffling him out the door was his muttering something to the effect of my thinking his money wasn’t good enough for me. The truth is that free consultations are also a chance for me to interview the client, to see if we are a good match for each other.
Sometimes we are, sometimes we ain’t.