10 Principles of Defending People: #1 Put Yourself in Your Client’s Shoes (But Only for a Moment)

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rosenthalwadas.com

(972) 369-0577

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been writing about what I think the top principles are when defending a person in the criminal justice system.

Here are no’s 2 – 10 to recap:

#1 Put Yourself in Your Client’s Shoes

There is much overlap in the principles I’ve suggested in this series.  You can make the argument this principle is really a combination of many of the other principles.

I must always remind myself my client and/or the people who love them often feel:

  • Scared
  • Confused
  • Angry
  • Uncertain
  • Embarrassed
  • Ashamed
  • Singled-Out
  • Hopeless
  • Worried
  • Anxious
  • Alone
  • Different
  • Abused

And even then I’m sure I’m over-simplifying what they must often be going through.  Criminal litigation is bet-the-farm type stuff.  People can lose their freedom and/or livelihood.

Lawyers have to appreciate just how important they are to their client and how much power they have in their client’s matters.  Just having an anxious client see my phone number pop up on their caller ID will ruin some people’s day even if I’m just asking a quick question or giving a small update.

Sometimes the simplicity of the golden rule is directly on target.  How would I, Jeremy Rosenthal, want someone handing the most important matter I could have in my entire life or even decade to conduct themselves?  Prepared… yes.  Organized… yes.  Knowledgable… yes.  Experienced… yes.  And on, and on and on.

Why wouldn’t I do my best to try and be the same way for another human who is experiencing many, if not all, of the emotions discussed above?

But Wait a Second…

There is an extremely important distinction.  I am not my client.

I am often asked by clients or their loved ones, “what would I do if I were in their situation.”  My answer is canned — but true:  “I’m not in your situation.”

I tell them I don’t know what keeps them up at night.  I don’t know what they want to be doing with their life in 10 years.  I don’t know if their great aunt Lucielle would spin in her grave if she knew they didn’t fight charges like the ones they’re facing.

The hard balance for any lawyer is putting themselves in their clients shoes and feeling the gravity of the situation — but remaining the detached expert who can give objective advice.  If I suffered from all of the emotional landmines I outlined above there is no way I could do my job.  I just have to remember they are always there.

Some lawyers do too good of a job putting themselves in their client’s shoes.  They stay there.  It can be problematic because the lawyer gets so wrapped up in the client’s problem — it becomes the lawyer’s problem too.  The lawyer loses objectivity, is less objective in their evaluations, arguments, and representation.

Lawyers need to put themselves in their client’s shoes… at least for a little while.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law and licensed by the State Bar of Texas.

 

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