A woman and her son come into the office for a consultation. At the end of the hour, the woman turns to me and tells me that they have also met with a number of other criminal defense lawyers. “Why should we hire you?” she wants to know.
I have to say, I am somewhat taken aback by the question. For one thing, we have just spent the better part of an hour talking through the ins and outs of the case. If she doesn’t have a pretty good sense of who I am by now, I’m not sure there is anything else I could say that would answer this question for her. For another thing, I realize I have gotten spoiled. I used to have the “elevator speech” ready to deliver at a moment’s notice. It has just been a long time since I have had to use it.
I have never liked this part about private practice: the selling of my services. Although I am glad to talk about the case, I don’t want to talk about myself. There is a reason people don’t like job interviews. Nobody likes to be judged. Nobody wants to have to dance for the money.
I am a stubborn person. So I refuse to.
Although I am tempted to end the interview the moment she asks me this question, the practical businessman in me restrains the impulse. I throw it back to her instead. “What would you like to know?” I ask her.
She has the standard questions. How many years have you been in practice? Have you handled this type of case before? What is your success rate with this type of case? And, then almost inevitably, my favorite question: What is your relationship with the prosecutor and judges?
There are many things I won’t say, and tonight is no exception. I equivocate. I qualify. If I am feeling ornery, I point out how I cannot answer many of the questions they have asked me. If I am feeling particularly ornery, I suggest that any lawyer who would answer these questions is acting unethically and is that who you want representing you?
But I don’t say this tonight because I realize that is exactly who they want representing them. Every case is different, I say instead. I cannot guarantee success. And, no, I don’t have any special influence with the prosecutors or judges that I can exert on your behalf.
We have gone from an animated discussion of the merits of the case to this. Suddenly I feel tired, deflated, and eager to get them out of our conference room so I can get home to my son and the pizza that is awaiting me. Although the mother sounded so reasonable on the phone and the facts of the case intrigued me, I am regretting that I agreed to this in-person consultation to begin with.
I finish my half-hearted equivocation and we sit there in silence for a moment, observing each other across the conference table. Thank you, the mother says finally. We will be in touch.
I wait with bated breath.