Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Criminal Defense Bar's Dirty Little Secret

Those in the legal field often say that "criminal lawyers are the only civil lawyers." This comes from the notion that civil lawyers spend their days fighting over money, and when people fight over money, they get nasty.

Well let me clue you in: we do that too. Well.....some of us do.

The concept of "stealing cases" is rampant in federal criminal practice. Federal cases are more lucrative than state cases, and federal practice is where you will find some cut throat crap amongst your "colleagues."

In federal cases, you can file a "temporary appearance" until you are retained. Reason being, once you file a "permanent appearance," you can't withdraw unless you die, or have a conflict of interest that involves something having to do with you dying. A temporary appearance is legalese for "they're trying to get the fee together."

A temporary appearance though, is like a rug to many fellow criminal defense lawyers - they'll walk right over it and go meet with your "temporary" client. They'll say you suck, they'll undercut you, they'll do anything to get the case. Anything.

I come from the school of "I won't take food out of your kids mouth." This means that I won't take cases from my friends.

In federal practice, you will learn soon that there is a difference between a "friend" and "very very very good friend."

Last week I had a lawyer call to tell me he saw I filed a temporary appearance and although he got a call to see the client, he was not going to see him without my consent. This has happened to me exactly once in my career.

I handled the case, until the client's family went to meet with another lawyer, who thought nothing of taking the case. He actually told me that he did not consider me a "social friend." His justification. He still doesn't know, because I didn't tell him, that I considered him a friend, and would not have met with the client's family knowing he was the lawyer. He also told me the clients were leaving me anyway and going somewhere else. My response to the clients had it been reversed, would have been what I said above - "I'm not going to be the lawyer to take food out of his kids mouth."

I've recently instituted a policy of not being anyone's second lawyer. Two reasons for this - 1. Most people who are not happy with their first lawyer will never be happy. 2. The others are being represented by my friends.

I have actually had colleagues argue with me about my practice and tell me that "we are in competition."

So maybe I'm a lone ranger in my philosophy, but I believe more in the notion of "what goes around....." well, you know, you, you, you and you - the thieves among us.


Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense attorney in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit www.tannebaumweiss.com