The Old Man’s Words of Wisdom
“I Once Had a Client . . . ”
Mr. A was charged with DUI. (As in the TV Show Law and Order, the clients described here are purely a work of fiction, and any resemblance to actual clients is incidental.) When asked about his criminal history during the initial consult, he said that he had none: “I’m a security guard. I wouldn’t have been hired if I had a record.” At the preliminary hearing (which Mr. A “forgot” initially to attend), the Assistant DA pulled out a three-page rap sheet showing charges of retail thefts and sex crimes. What should have been a simple case turned out to be an all-out struggle to keep Mr. A from spending the night in jail on a bench warrant.
Mr. B was charged with assaulting his estranged wife with a gun. Initially he told his lawyer that it wasn’t a gun at all, but that he only pointed at her with his finger. Later, as he related the events, he mentioned he picked up his gun and pointed it at her because he knew it wasn’t loaded. “Oh, yeah, I guess I did point the gun at her after all!”
Then there was Mrs. C, who was applying for Social Security disability because she couldn’t work because of a back injury and pain. At the hearing, she testified, “Well, I could work, but then who would fix meals and clean up after my two teenage boys?”
And finally, what about Mr. D, who brought a civil rights case because he was discriminated against by his government employer. All of the written correspondence and reprimands that he never told his attorney about must have been manufactured just before his deposition. Clearly they were setting him up. Sixteen letters addressed to his home in a small town over a two two-year period, sent by four different people, all never reached him.
Each of us who deal with clients on a daily basis could tell similar stories beginning “I once had a client. . . ,” and they may be funny, if the real life lies and half-truths didn’t affect how we practice and how we look at clients. How many of us at a gathering of lawyers have participated in trying to top the other with a story about a bad client?
If you know about it, you can work with the client who has been married three times and never divorced. You know what you are getting involved in, and that knowledge allows you to be a good advocate, but the client who has secrets from his own attorney is another matter.
Remember—when you interview clients, it is important to interrogate them as you would an opposing witness on the witness stand, so you get all the facts. Otherwise, you will be like me, who can say “I once had a client who . . . ”
— William G. Schwab
Learning the Law for More Than 29 Years