» Clients, lawyers, Practice in General » What the "Hot-Shots" Do

What the "Hot-Shots" Do

I judged a law school moot court client counseling competition last week where the competitors were supposed to play the role of a lawyer in an initial consultation. One competitor struggled at times formulating questions, and he told the judges that was because he was concerned about asking too many questions. He didn’t want to know too much.

Of the three judges, two of us practice criminal law. The third, a transactional lawyer, deferred to us to instruct the competitor about what to do about that dilemma.

I answered by telling the competitor it wasn’t really a single dilemma with a clear answer I could give him right there, but more of a daily reality of practicing law in a field where you represent people. To know what to ask and what not to ask, you need intimate knowledge of the area of law in general and of the issues that come up in that type of case in particular. You must understand the ethics rules. You want to get as much as you can to avoid any nasty surprises, but at the same time, you can get yourself in a legal or ethical mess if you don’t know what you’re doing.

The competitor’s question was almost like asking a civil litigator how to win a lawsuit. What type of lawsuit? What court? At what stage? What are the facts? Who is the client? Who is the opponent? The competitor’s was too broad a question to get any sort of helpful answer in such a setting.

The competitor didn’t seemed thrilled with my answer. He looked like he wanted a simple sound byte he could take with him and never think about it again. The transactional lawyer also seemed dissatisfied with my response. He explained to the competitor, “all of the hot-shots downtown always want to know very little so they can keep their options open.”

I’m not surprised that I don’t count as a “hot-shot.” I already knew I wasn’t a “street lawyer,” as many of my appointed clients used to threaten that they’d hire one if I failed to comply with their demands. A “hot-shot” is probably one step above that. I guess I’m not a “downtown” lawyer either. That must be because of my suburban office and the fact I have to drive several miles to Phoenix on each of the three or four days each week I practice in downtown Phoenix courts. Not being a hot-shot, downtown lawyer, I suppose I couldn’t have known there was a simple, bright-line rule to a highly complex aspect of being a criminal defense lawyer.

Luckily, there are a few simple rules I do know. In the law, simple answers tend to be wrong. Sentences that contain the words “never” or “always” tend to be inaccurate. No single piece of knowledge can ever serve as a substitute for experience. I’d like to think that most people know those things, but most people are comforted by the simple and the absolute. They let it slide.

I like my rules better, but then again, I’m not a hot-shot, downtown lawyer.

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5 Responses to "What the "Hot-Shots" Do"

  1. Andrew (the other one) says:

    I assume a “street lawyer” is one with a shark on his or her business card.

  2. […] . . . Except. Arizona criminal defense lawyer Matt Brown writes about judging a “client counseling competition,” (!) and advising a struggling […]

  3. JW says:

    Thanks, Matt. In my search for a CDL (been looking for 10+ months now, as I’m free and not charged with anything) I’ve talked with more than a dozen attorneys and was really surprised at the great variance of questions I was asked by them.
    For some, they wanted to know everything from my work history and education … other just the facts of the warrant … one of the most highly recommended ones didn’t ask me anything. Just wanted to give me a quote. I was curious why so many attorneys would be so varying in their inquisitiveness.
    Thanks for the info. I’d be interested in hearing more if you care to type it.

  4. Matt Brown says:

    There are more potential messes than I could ever put in just one comment (or even one post). Two immediately come to mind thinking about stories I’ve heard lately.

    Sometimes, in deciding the best approach for a certain case, it might be appropriate to see what defenses the facts and law support before hashing out every factual detail as the client perceives it. Too much info may prevent you from doing something you want to do later on.

    It’s also possible that a lawyer may have to withdraw from an existing client’s case and well as a potential client’s case if they get certain types of information in an initial and it turns out there’s a conflict between the two clients.

    Lawyers should be careful in initial consultations for those and countless other reasons.

  5. JW says:

    This is your only post with the tag “knowing too much.” INACDL, but I am looking for one. How could a CDL know too much and end up in legal/ethical mess?

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