Aerial view of DC

Grace. Class. Loyalty to the Client.

Jamison KoehlerProfessional Responsibility/Ethics


“I want a new lawyer.”

The defendant and his lawyer have clearly had some type of disagreement, and this is what the defendant, standing at the bar of the court alongside counsel, says to the judge.

Who knows what the issue is?  Maybe the lawyer wasn’t returning phone calls. In this case, the defendant would be justified in seeking new representation. Maybe the lawyer had simply given her client a healthy dose of some well-needed but tough advice. In that case, the client should be grateful.

Whatever the cause of the dispute, nobody likes to be dressed down in open court. The question is how the lawyer reacts.

I have heard the lawyer’s name before. As a former public defender, she has a good reputation. But I am not impressed with the way she handles herself today.  She bickers with the client and rolls her eyes. She looks back at the gallery with frustration and impatience as if to seek the support of the other lawyers sitting there. “Okay, Judge,” she says finally.  “I move to withdraw.” She then marches out of the courtroom with a final eye roll as soon as the judge has granted her motion.

It is not a question of the client always being right. Every lawyer in the room knows that clients can sometimes be unreasonable, particularly when you are dealing with someone with mental health or addiction issues. The judge knows this too. The question instead is one of grace, class, maturity, and most of all loyalty, both during and after the representation. You don’t worry about your own reputation at the expense of the client.  You never try to make your client look bad.  It is when the client is acting at his most unreasonable that he most needs your help.