Thursday, January 01, 2009

Go Find Another "Second" Lawyer

UPDATE: Prosecutor Ken Lammers explains his view of the "Second Lawyer" from the other side of the courtroom.

I believe the main reason many criminal defense lawyers hate their practices is not the stress of oppressive sentencing guidelines, case law that is mostly "against us," or trials that seem "impossible" to win.

I believe it is because we often let our practices manage us, rather than the other way around.

Translated, if you want to stop "running around," take fewer cases, charge fees that are in line with your value and not your need for "this month's rent." Turn down clients that appear to have a different idea of your role as criminal defense counsel, and get paid up front instead of chasing clients for unpaid balances.

Most of the time when I say these things to criminal defense lawyers, they act like I'm telling them to do the impossible. "You can't do those things in 'my town.'" "I could never do that." "I have to take every case that comes in." "I have to do payment plans."

No, you don't.

There's also something else you don't have to do, and that I do not do.

I will not be someone's second lawyer.

I began to follow this policy a couple years ago.

Yes, there is an exception.

But first, the rule.

I will not be someone's second lawyer.


Generally, if someone is not happy with their first lawyer, they will never be happy. Most of the time when someone calls me about their lawyer "doing nothing," I check the online docket to learn that depositions have been taken (yes, we have those in Florida), motions have been filed, and work is being done.

The call usually comes to my office after a "bad" plea offer. This is usually a plea offer that doesn't have the word "dismissal," or "time served."

Also, the call to be the second lawyer almost always comes with the cries of "no money," or request that you, the lawyer, assist in the request to lawyer 1 for the return of "nonrefundable" fees.

So when will I be the second lawyer?

When it's obvious that the client is not properly being represented. This determination is not based on advice given by the first lawyer. It has to be something more concrete. Something like the case is going to trial in one week, the lawyer has not returned any of the clients calls, refused to meet with the client, and no work has been done. This type of circumstance is rare.

Most of the time you are dealing with someone who is just never going to be happy.

So I usually refuse to even meet the client, and I will never pursue it when the call comes from a girlfriend or brother/sister (criminal defense lawyers know why). If a parent calls, I'll take the call, but probably not meet with the client.

In sum, there are people who will just never be happy, and I'm not going to spend my time trying to make them happy.

Oh, Happy New Year.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit

Share/Save/Bookmark rules Post to Twitter