I had another client today tell me that he had heard about me before becoming my client. This one was a bit of a surprise because he isn't from the area where I work and where my clients are from, but he had still somehow heard about me. He even told me that he was from "far away" and that he had still heard about me. And, like most of the clients who tell me things like this, he wanted to know when I was going to open my own firm. This question always makes me chuckle a little, as if being a competent attorney and being a public defender are mutually exclusive. The clients also seem to miss the obvious point that if I ever did open a firm, I wouldn't be a public defender anymore, which means they would not be able to have me as their attorney.
I was bet surprised that this client had heard of me. I have become aware of the fact that the clients in my area are often familiar with me/my name because it's a small area and the same groups of people are often in the system. And if they are in jail, they all talk, of course. So I did know that I've somehow gotten a reputation among the people in my area. But it was very surprising to hear that people who aren't in my area have heard of me. That thought had never even occurred to me.
I don't agree that I'm somehow better than other public defenders, although some clients have told me otherwise. I think this is more of an illusion than anything else. I think two factors about me that I can't change cause people to think I'm better than I actually am. One, I'm the youngest PD we have. And I have been told that I look younger than I really am. Two, I'm a chick. I don't think people expect much from their deceptively-young-looking female attorney, so if I do anything competently, they perceive that to be outstanding. I still get asked how long I've been a lawyer and when I graduated school, so I think people must initially think the brand-new, completely inexperienced PD got assigned to their case. The bar is set so low for me, anything I do is above and beyond what was expected.
I don't do remarkable work on cases. I'm not on the front lines of novel legal arguments; I'm not feared by the opposition; I don't raise new or unexplored issues of law; I don't have some headliner case under my belt... I show up, probably a little haggard, talk to my client for a bit, and in 99.99% of cases, I get a deal for the client and help my client plead guilty to something. In almost 2 years of felony work, I've only had 5 trials and 5 contested hearings (although I have filed more than 5 motions, but I usually am able to get a deal that negates the need for the hearing). I really don't do anything magical or amazing or incredibly legally skilled. The reputation has to come from low expectations of public defenders in general combined with my age and gender. There is nothing I do that sets me apart from other attorneys or other public defenders. I'm just run of the mill. I honestly don't know where clients get the idea I'm some legal powerhouse. I mean, I'm glad my clients are happy, but I don't think they would be any less happy with a different public defender.
I suppose eventually the hype will wear off when I no longer look like the baby in the courthouse and people realize I'm just an average attorney. In the meantime, it's very strange to have become widely known among those accused of crimes. Strange demographic to become well-known in...