Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Client Archetypes

The court system can quite often feel like a never-ending treadmill.  There's so many people going through it and it never stops.  The interesting thing is that although there are so many people from so many different walks of life, there seems to be some typical characters who make up the public defender clients.  These people are not the majority of clients, by any means.  But, the typical behaviors of these people are so consistent from each one to the next that I've started to create categories for them in my mind.  Here are the 9 categories for the various types of clients:  

1. The Panicker--This client requires a lot of hand-holding (figuratively, not literally).  Every time they call, it is an emergency.  They will leave breathless, anxious, rapid-fire messages about how they must speak with you immediately, regardless of the fact that you've told them many times that you are in court a lot of the day and may not be able to get to their call immediately.  When they can't reach you on your line, they will call the front office staff and leave them the same message--it's an emergency.  If you don't call back within 10 minutes, they will start calling you every 10-20 minutes and either hanging up when the voicemail kicks in or before then.  They are not anxious or panicked in the way you might normally expect a person to be when charged with a crime.  They are anxious and panicked no matter what you do or say, no matter how much you talk with them or reassure them, no matter what you do, they remain panicked.  They are exceptionally needy as clients and are never satisfied, since they constantly are filled with panic. 

2. The Client Who Has Another Attorney--This other attorney can be anyone--a family member who is actually an attorney, an attorney they had a consultation with once, or--best of all--the ever-wonderful jailhouse lawyers.  This client has spoken with these other attorneys--real or jailhouse--about the case (despite you telling them they should not discuss the case with anyone) and has come away with a myriad of ideas that they have gotten from these other attorneys.  They will then tell you all the information that the other attorney gave them, although most of the time it will not make much, if any, sense because the client didn't totally understand what they were being told and are not explaining it very well at all.  This client will then insist that you should do whatever the other attorney said they would do.  Unlike a second opinion, where you go get another perspective on the situation and presumably if you like their info better you go with that guy, this client will gather that second opinion and then drop it on your lap and expect you to do whatever the other guy said they would do.  When you tell them that you are not going to do that, or when you tell them your opinion on the strengths and weaknesses of their case, this client will respond with, "Okay, but the other attorney was saying..."

3. The Disappearing Act--This client has various iterations.  
A. The Now-You-See-Me-Now-You-Don't Disappearing Act--this client starts off maintaining contact with you, returning your phone calls, etc, etc.  Then one day, this client drops off the face of the planet.  Mail starts coming back as "return to sender" although you aren't aware of any change in the client's address; the phone numbers are no longer in service; and you can't reach them to save your life.  Sometimes this client will miss court, sometimes not.  That's always impossible to predict, since they are suddenly AWOL. 

B. The Freeloading Disappearing Act--this is the client who thinks that now that they have an attorney, the attorney does everything and the client just has to show up in court.  This client also doesn't return phone calls and also fails to keep you posted on when they move or if they have a new phone number. This client gets angry with you when you tell them you've mailed them things and that it went to the old address.  When you tell them that, they will say, "Well, I don't even live there anymore, so why did it get sent there?" or "Well, yeah, I moved!"  They are angry with you for not somehow just knowing that they moved.  Occasionally this client will call the court administration and tell court admin that they have a new address and then they are incredibly mad when you inform them that your office and court admin are separate entities, so if the client didn't call YOU and tell YOU the new address, then you don't know that they moved.  Again, they get mad at you because you didn't know.  This client is also the client who does not want to really help you with their case, as evidenced by their lack of returning phone calls, missing scheduled appointments with you, etc.  When they come to court (and they will come to court), they look at you and said, "So, what's going on with my case?  What have you gotten done for me?"  When you explain to them that you haven't been able to get anything done on the case since the client has missed several meetings with you and hasn't returned your calls, so you have no idea what the client says happened or what they want for a result in their case, they get mad at you. 

C. The Consistently Disappearing Act--this client is the one who never comes to court, never returns phone calls, never updates you on their change in address or phone number, and quite honestly, probably has never met you.  This person is the one who will miss every court date and eventually end up with a warrant.  You will close out this file as "Failed to Appear" and you will never have met this client.  

4. The Chip-on-the-Shoulder--this client is mad about something.  The cops were mean to them.  They don't think the charges are warranted in any way.  They don't like having to go to court.  Whatever it is, it is something about the case that they are incredibly pissed about. Reasoning with them is often pointless because they don't hear what you are saying, since they are so mad.  These come in 2 varieties: 

A. The Get-it-Over-Chip-on-the-Shoulder--this client is SOOO pissed about whatever they are pissed about that they "don't even want to deal with this stupid thing anymore."  They will tell you that they "will just take the damn offer"--no matter what--in order to get it over with.  If the offer sucks--they will still take it.  If they maintain that they are innocent, they still want to take it.  When you explain that in order to plead guilty, you have to actually be guilty and you actually have to admit to breaking the law, they get really upset since they can't (or won't) admit to breaking the law.  They get very frustrated when you tell them the court won't take a guilty plea if someone says they didn't do anything but are just trying to get it over with.  They get mad at you for telling them that it is a bad idea to go into court and "just lie and tell them what they want to hear" in order to take the plea.  

B. The Going-Down-in-a-Blaze-of-Glory-Chip-on-the-Shoulder--this client is SOOO pissed about whatever they are pissed about that they "will just take this damn thing to trial then." This client usually wants the charges to be dismissed because they are "bullshit."  When you explain to them that you can't file a motion to dismiss for "bullshittery," they get mad.  When the plea offer from the prosecutor includes pleading guilty to at least something, they get mad.  They will strongly, wholeheartedly tell you that they did nothing wrong, even when you point out that remaining in the car as the "lookout" counts as "aiding or abeting" or that only helping someone sell drugs once or twice and they didn't really want to still counts as "aiding or abetting."  If they aren't explaining to you why their conduct isn't criminal, even though it is very apparent that what they are telling you they did is in fact a crime, then this client is telling you that the people making the accusations are lying.  They will not be able to tell you why the accusers would make something like this up.  They will have no alibi for the time.  They will not have any information to help you build their case.  Despite either the fact that their conduct as they explained it to you is a crime and despite the fact that they have zero explanations or information for you to build a case with, they want to go to trial.  Come hell or high water, they want their trial.  When you explain that that is probably not at all a good idea given the facts of the case (and the fact that they either just told you that they committed the crime or they have not given you any information to poke holes in the state's case), they get mad at you.  This client will go down in flames by going to trial rather than give one single iota, because they started out by being SOOO pissed about something.  Oh, and if the person has told you what they were doing and you have explained that their actions do actually constitute breaking the law, this client will insist that they should testify.

5. The Liar--this client lies.  A lot.  And this client is usually terrible at it.  For good measure, there is a pretty decent chance that this client has already given a full statement to the police that implicates them--or sometimes it's just a flat out confession.  Now that they have had some time to think and they aren't in the interrogation room, this client will have thought of some really excellent explanation for things.  This client will tell you this really excellent explanation.  It will include things like they were not there but they were with Some Guy.  When you ask for Some Guy's name and/or contact information, this client can't tell you either of those things.  This client will tell you things that make no logical sense at all, such as they were walking in town at 3:00 a.m. (like you do?) and they ran into Some Guy while out walking.  Never having met Some Guy in their life and only knowing Some Guy's first name, they decided to go to Some Guy's house for a bit.  They will not be able to give you any information about where Some Guy might live--it's as if they arrived at Some Guy's apartment blindfold or something! This client will never have seen Some Guy after that night and no one else will have ever met Some Guy, either, but this client will insist that he was with Some Guy.  If it's not Some Guy, it's a different but still similar really excellent explanation.  When you point out that the police reports state that this client gave a full confession, they will tell you that the cop is lying and that they never said that.  When you point out that the confession was taped or video-recorded and that they did in fact say that, this client will also have a really excellent explanation as to why they would ever say such a thing.  This really excellent explanation will be something about how they just knew what the cop wanted to hear and they assumed they could go home, so they lied to the cop to get out of there.  This really excellent explanation will be about as excellent as this client's version of what happened or where they were that night. 

6. The Dreamer--this client thinks that you two will be able to get a fantastic deal out of the state that essentially consists of only things that this client wants to do with either no jail time or significantly reduced time.  This client will not want to agree to anything that might actually inconvenience them in any way.  This client is usually facing a rather serious felony charge and will agree to plead to the 2nd degree assault, so long as the prosecutor agrees that this client will not have to serve any time and will only be on probation for 6 months and that the only conditions of probation are that this client doesn't break the law anymore.  When you explain that that is probably never going to happen, this client will throw in that for added measure, they would also plead to the drug possession charge, too with the same conditions as the 2nd degree assault.  When you explain that that still won't change the state's mind, this client can't understand why since "they'd have two guilty pleas!"  A slight variant of this client is the client who thinks that you will be able to get the entire case thrown out, just like on TV, because the cops didn't read them their rights.  When you point out that at the time this client spoke with the officers, they were not under arrest and therefore the cops didn't have to read them any rights, they can't believe that is correct.  They assume that you have a super-secret mutant power that you only whip out for the super incredibly innocent clients and that they are that client and so you will use your magic mutant power to make the charges disappear into thin air.  

7. The Crab Apple--this client is different than The Chip-on-the-Shoulder.  This client isn't really angry.  This client is just grumpy, unhappy, and most notably, whiny.  This client will usually admit that they did something wrong and that they should be on probation as a result.  However, when this client finds out that there are things that are actually required that they do, they are sooo grumpy and unhappy about it.  This client will then whine to you about why they can't do this thing or that thing.  When you offer various options that you think realistically you could get the prosecutor to agree to, they will tell you why that thing won't work either.  Usually these various probation requirements will not work for one of reasons: 1) the client works/goes to school so has absolutely no time to complete that requirement. And no, giving them extra time to do the requirement in will not solve that problem.  2) the client has children.  For some reason, this client assumes that saying, "But I have kids to take care of" somehow means that all expectations of them are simply swept off the table.  This client will also let you know that the kids are 10, 14, and 17, meaning probably able to be without this client by their side 24 hours a day.  3) this client has medical problems.  This will most frequently be whipped out when the plea offer includes hours on the work crew (meaning generally physical work) or any length of jail time.  They will let you know that they can't do the work crew because they have bad knees/bad back/heart problems/etc.  When you suggest that you can get the prosecutor to agree to community service instead, allowing them to perhaps volunteer at a place where they need someone to do filing or other light office work, they will let you know that they have another medical condition that would prevent them from doing that.  If it's jail time that they are protesting about, they will tell you that they have to take medications and see a doctor every 2 weeks.  When you explain that the jail will allow them to take their medication (for the most part--usually controlled substances are not allowed but generally most other stuff is) and that they will also provide them with medical care or the court could order that the client be released for medical appointments, this client will insist that any amount of jail will only aggravate their medical conditions, regardless of whether they get their medications and treatment.  Nothing makes this client happy and nothing every works for this client.  They are willing to plead guilty and will say they will do something as a result of a guilty plea, but when it comes down to the details, this client will whine about how those probation requirements just will not work under any circumstances for them.

8. The Perma-Client--this client thinks that because you represented them once on one case, you are permanently their lawyer.  They will call you randomly out of the blue to request (or demand, depending on the client) that you help them with another legal problem they are having.  Usually this legal problem is somewhat related to the original file--such as it may be a problem they are having with their probation officer or that the jail has accused them of violating jail rules and has taken away privileges. Occasionally this client is calling about a completely unrelated matter or they have managed to get a new file and they assume that you are their attorney--regardless of where in the state the charges are in.  Since this client is generally calling about a quasi-related matter to the original case you helped them on, they will be very unhappy and possibly angry with you when you explain that, per statute, district public defenders are assigned to represent people only through sentencing and since they have been sentenced, you aren't their attorney anymore.  If they have a new probation violation, they assume you are their attorney.  When you explain that they have to apply for a public defender for their probation file, they aren't happy.  If you tell them that you aren't able to help them with the jail disciplinary procedures, they are very disappointed.  The good news with this client is that if they are calling you again, they probably thought you did a decent enough job the first time around and they trust your skills as a lawyer since they want you to help them again.  The bad news is the can rear their head at any time after the original case has finished and you can just never tell who is going to end up being this type of client.

9. The Overly Involved--this client is way too involved in the case.  This client is the exact opposite of The Freeloading Disappearing Act.  This client is almost always in jail because they can't afford the bail, meaning they have waaaay too much time on their hands.  This client has nothing to do but obsess over their case and then to call you from the jail with "helpful" suggestions.  This client will call you to request their "motions of discovery."  This client will have absolutely no clue what in the hell their "motions of discovery" are but they will have pored over some book in the jail's law library and figured out that they are very important and apparently that they are very often overlooked by attorneys, so this client knows that they must ask you specifically to request these mysterious, important "motions of discovery."  When you gently let them know that their "motions of discovery" are nothing more than roughly 7 pages of boilerplate language forms with check marks in the appropriate spots, stapled to the complaint and the police reports, this client is less than impressed.  This client will have suggestions on motions, regardless of whether they actually apply or not to their case, because almost always this client has very little legal knowledge and isn't really clear on what they are reading or why it does or does not apply.  This client will want to know every single thing at all times, even things you haven't gotten to--such as your closing statement in trial.  When you let them know that you generally don't have a closing statement for trial after their first court date, they have suggestions for you that you should incorporate into your closing statement.  This client will call you multiple times a day, like The Panicker, but this client will not be panicked.  This client will be trying to be helpful by telling you all the things you should be doing.  This client is certain that if you'd just do what they are telling you, things would be so much better for them.  This client may be unhappy with your decision not to file that motion that they have suggested since it doesn't in any way, shape, or form apply to this client's case.  This client is very nice, rarely ever mean and almost never acts like a jerk.  This client sees you and them as a team, working together to ensure they are acquitted.  This client believes they are the coach of the team and you are the team member and that they are helping you by giving you some awesome coaching advice.  To some extent, this client doesn't really trust that you can do your job, so this client feels that they need to be constantly monitoring you and directing you and guiding you, even if their guidance makes no sense in their particular case.  This client is pleasant and will often listen attentively and hear you out, but this client may not always believe you when you tell them that their ideas probably won't work like they think they will.  Ultimately, as kind and pleasant and nice as this client is, this client will end up trying your nerves and exhausting you with their multitude of suggestions.


  1. Anonymous1:25 PM

    Love it! You'll prob. also want to add one on the client who needs psychiatric help.

  2. This Is Wonderland was a Canadian television series which aired on CBC Television. The series is a legal drama with comedic elements, or a comedy-drama. It was created by playwright George F. Walker, his writing partner Dani Romain, and Osgoode Hall Law School graduate and longtime Canadian TV producer Bernard Zukerman.
    Alice De Raey, played by Cara Pifko, a young criminal lawyer fresh out of Osgoode Hall Law School, is thrown into a chaotic justice system. She encounters characters ranging from the truly desperate to the bizarre. Alice, with a good-natured openness that cloaks a tenacious, committed spirit, finds herself on a journey that constantly tests her patience and compassion. Alice has a distinctive habit of muttering to herself.

    (Hard to find in the USA but well worth watching if you ever can).