Met and Unmet Client Expectations

by Jamison Koehler on August 7, 2012

Over at Tempe Criminal Defense, Matt Brown has been talking about expectations – client expectations and his own.  “The angry client rant is tough,” Brown says. And the problem, he says, starts with expectations. Clients expect the system to treat them fairly.  They blame their lawyers when it doesn’t:

I would like to think that my threshold for having people pissed off at me is high, but I’m still human.  It sucks being attacked by the people I’m trying to help.  It sucks being reminded about the stakes over and over when I’m already doing my best.

Brown does not blame clients for directing their frustration at him. After all, “I am the face of the system for many of them.”  Nor can he can expect the “wrongfully accused” to sing his praises for getting them probation instead of prison:  “I’ll quit before I start expecting drug possession clients to laud the system that sends them away for six years instead of ten.”

Brown’s clients vent to him.  Brown vents on his blog.  I vent on this blog.

Clients do expect the system to treat them as individuals.  Chances are good if they are charged with a felony that this expectation will be satisfied.  They will get plenty of attention from within the prosecutor’s office:  The government will try extra hard to put them behind bars.

Where such expectations will be disappointed is when clients are charged with a minor misdemeanor. In this case, there are far too many cases working their way through the system for the prosecutor to focus on the individual. Clients imagine the prosecutor sitting at his desk weeks out from trial, mulling the case over in his mind. Well, the prosecutor says to himself. The defendant was mistreated by the police who never read him his rights or allowed him to make a phone call. And coming to court three times since he was arrested has been a tremendous inconvenience. I think I will cut this guy a break.

Doesn’t happen.

How clients deal with this cookie-cutter, assembly line aspect of our criminal justice system depends on the individual. I learned as a waiter during graduate school that there was rarely a correlation between the quality of service I provided and the amount of the tip I received in return. I could run around trying to satisfy the demands of one table while completely ignoring another, and at the end of the night, the table I ignored would give me a generous tip while the people I had worked so hard to satisfy would wait until I was back in the kitchen before leaving the restaurant. Some people are going to tip you. Other people will be dissatisfied.

How you deal with this dissatisfaction is up to you.  Says Brown:

I could explain to them that the system is unfair and that it gets it wrong more often than they’d think.  I could tell them it could’ve been much worse and that I do it not because I get the perfect result every time but because I strive to get the best possible result given the circumstances.  It’s rarely the time or place for me to play teacher.  I usually just listen.  Inside, I mostly agree.

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