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Criminal Defence Lawyer in Sole Practice - Ask Me Anything

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What things would you factor into when choosing a location for your office?

 

I see a lot of crim lawyer offices nearby a courthouse usually in an huge office building yet hardly see any storefront type of offices where you would attract people off the street..

 

Why is this typically the case?

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What things would you factor into when choosing a location for your office?

 

I see a lot of crim lawyer offices nearby a courthouse usually in an huge office building yet hardly see any storefront type of offices where you would attract people off the street..

 

Why is this typically the case?

 

I think this is the first original question for a while. So if I've missed any, I hope someone will dray my attention back to them.

 

I'll reinforce my usual warning. I have only my own limited experiences, so speaking in generalities about this kind of thing is tough. I'll do my best, but bear that in mind.

 

I think foot traffic for most kinds of legal services is over-rated. The value of being in a storefront location, as compared to the added cost of it, is questionable. There could be value if you were right next to a court, but even then you may not want that "kind" of legal practice. So that explains why many lawyers might not choose a storefront. As for why they might be in the vicinity of a courthouse despite not being in a storefront. Well ... we spend a lot of time in court. Counting minor appearances, I'm in court most days. And so all else being equal - hell yeah you'd want to be right by where you need to be anyway.

 

The looming issue here is that even among criminal defence lawyers, not every practice necessarily caters to the same sorts of clientele. That isn't to say we intentionally turn people away - but like any business we have an interest in identifying our probable clients and working within that demographic. Top end lawyers neither have nor even want storefront offices. Their clients are not people who spot a law office and wander in. They research who and what they need carefully. A practice serving many legal aid clients wants and needs to keep overhead low. That's also an issue. The list goes on. So if you're trying to figure out where it's best to locate your office, you should start with who you plan on serving and what your practice is going to look like. You may or may not know that right away, but it'll be a big part of answering that question in the long term.

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What things would you factor into when choosing a location for your office?

 

I see a lot of crim lawyer offices nearby a courthouse usually in an huge office building yet hardly see any storefront type of offices where you would attract people off the street..

 

Why is this typically the case?

Cost is probably a big reason. You can get an office in one of these suite buildings for a few hundred dollars maybe but a storefront will be a lot more.

 

The other thing is people that walk in off the street just waste your time most of the time. The people that walk in either want something right now when you're working on something else or they have some 'great case' you should take or they want some weird document notarized. That's been my experience. 

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I'm speaking from personal experience, but if you're in Ontario, and are a juniour call, and looking to get on the Legal Aid panel, make sure that you have a mentor on board. As in, an actual contract that needs to be submitted to Legal Aid.

 

*sigh*

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I'm speaking from personal experience, but if you're in Ontario, and are a juniour call, and looking to get on the Legal Aid panel, make sure that you have a mentor on board. As in, an actual contract that needs to be submitted to Legal Aid.

 

*sigh*

 

That sucks. Sorry you're going through that. My own experiences were very different in that regard. I suspect it varies considerably by region, which are all semi-autonomous in the legal aid structure. May not be such an issue elsewhere. But it's very good to be aware of the possible problem.

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Like Hegdis, I do it but tell the client what it means in advance. It can be used sarcastically or dismissively as well... "It's unfortunate that my learned friend didn't ask his witness X before putting her on the stand, but we've now heard Y..."  

 

I do think that the courtesies of calling Crowns your learned friend, addressing judges as Your Honour, calling your client and witnesses Mr and Ms and the other etiquette/decorum we use are important - they keep the emotions from getting too high and create a sense of occasion in court.  Coming to court should be special and different from what we do elsewhere.  That's why I tell clients not to wear hats or shirts with swears on them, etc.  "My learned friend" is part of that respect that shows you belong.  Saying Mr X or The Crown would set me apart in a way I don't want to be, as someone who doesn't follow the courtroom traditions everyone else is using.  If I'm going to be different, I want it to be substantive and meaningful.

 

I've seen this come up a few times on the forum. I practice in Alberta, where "my friend" is the standard term for other lawyers. In jurisdictions that appoint QC's, like Alberta, you refer to lawyers with QC's as "my learned friend". I've never heard "my learned friend" employed where the person being referred to wasn't a QC. YMMV.

 

As for using it sarcastically or dismissively, different lawyers operate successfully with different rules, but in my opinion it (i) doesn't pay to be sarcastic or dismissive when referring to opposing counsel and (ii) is not in keeping with the collegiality of the bar even if it did confer a tactical advantage.

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I've seen this come up a few times on the forum. I practice in Alberta, where "my friend" is the standard term for other lawyers. In jurisdictions that appoint QC's, like Alberta, you refer to lawyers with QC's as "my learned friend". I've never heard "my learned friend" employed where the person being referred to wasn't a QC. YMMV.

 

As for using it sarcastically or dismissively, different lawyers operate successfully with different rules, but in my opinion it (i) doesn't pay to be sarcastic or dismissive when referring to opposing counsel and (ii) is not in keeping with the collegiality of the bar even if it did confer a tactical advantage.

 

I got referred to as "my learned friend" once by opposing counsel. The trial judge smirked and said "I wasn't aware that Mr. Widget had been promoted to Queen's Counsel ..." Some people really do stick on the little things like that.

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Any information on referral services - think it was mentioned a while ago.. But I hear that for a few hundred a month, some organizations will refer clients your way.. (Heard generally two a month in Ontario but it's up to you to make your sales pitch after to get retained)...

 

Worthwhile or no? (And the names of anh good lawyer referral services if known)

Edited by PS89
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My understanding is that it is against the rules of the law society (in Alberta and perhaps elsewhere) to pay a fee in exchange for new clients, correct me if I'm wrong. 

 

So you have to pay 'administrative fees' to a company who advertises on the internet or whatever and will refer people to you in the same way that the lawyer referral system works.

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Any information on referral services - think it was mentioned a while ago.. But I hear that for a few hundred a month, some organizations will refer clients your way.. (Heard generally two a month in Ontario but it's up to you to make your sales pitch after to get retained)...

 

Worthwhile or no? (And the names of anh good lawyer referral services if known)

 

I've heard from American colleagues that similar systems are worthless (not speaking to or passing judgment on every one of these organizations, just parroting information that I have received, not expressing personal opinions due to my lack of involvement with such paid services). I am told that such referrals aren't usually pre-screened for quality and it's a clearing house for people hoping for free advice, or pointless/minor claims. You'd generate the same/better returns by offering free consultations and talking to anyone who calls you.

 

There are some worthwhile ones; the Public Legal Information Office/CBA/Law Society (depending on your jurisdiction) sometimes maintain free lists of lawyers who will take low-rate or free initial consults, and they're free to join.

Edited by widget

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Any information on referral services - think it was mentioned a while ago.. But I hear that for a few hundred a month, some organizations will refer clients your way.. (Heard generally two a month in Ontario but it's up to you to make your sales pitch after to get retained)...

 

Worthwhile or no? (And the names of anh good lawyer referral services if known)

 

Without reviewing the rules, I do believe that referral fees to anyone who isn't a licensed practitioner are illegal. They happen, don't get me wrong, I'm just giving you the basics to start. Probably any system operating above board has a licensed practitioner (lawyer or paralegal - can paralegals take referral fees?) behind it somewhere. But some operate unofficially also.

 

The only organized referrals I know of that are worth a damn are from personal operatives and networks. So, not large and organized services, just one particular lawyer happens to know a guy (sorry, but they are almost always guys) who is good at finding this kind of work and who agrees to send it to the lawyer in exchange for some kind of percentage, usually. Every case I've known of revolves around a particular ethnic community. There could be exceptions, but networks like this are usually going to be ethnic.

 

That's about the limit of my experience with referral organizations. I don't use any. I'm not even on the LSUC's referral service anymore.

 

Hope that helps.

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How important is it to have a car when starting out?

 

Essential.

 

Where is your local prison? 

Police station?

Closest six courthouses?

 

Now imagine you have to hit all of those locations in one morning. Can you do that with public transit? Probably not.

 

The thing about this job is you need to be able to move fast without warning. Car is critical.

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Essential.

 

Where is your local prison? 

Police station?

Closest six courthouses?

 

Now imagine you have to hit all of those locations in one morning. Can you do that with public transit? Probably not.

 

The thing about this job is you need to be able to move fast without warning. Car is critical.

 

Kind of what I thought. Alright, thanks for confirming!

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Hi all

 

I mentioned that I was jealous of Uriel's AMA (can be found here and it's well worth reviewing) so here's mine.

 

I'm a criminal defence lawyer who is self-employed in sole practice, working in Toronto. I've been doing this for over a year now. My path into self-employment in this area is not exactly a straight one. I would prefer to vague up those details at least a little in order to protect my anonymity. I initially articled in criminal defence, I did a few other things, and then when it came time to go out on my own I opened up in this area. Note that it is extremely common for self-defence lawyers to have unusual careers. I'm not sure what "typical" would even look like, necessarily. So ask me questions about this if you like and I'll just decline if it gets too directly personal.

 

I figure I can talk about starting one's own practice (which would be relevant to any retail practice I think - though most specifically relevant to crim), I can talk about this area naturally, I can talk about legal aid, and if there's anything else you want to ask about that's relevant to my experiences I'll give it a shot.

 

Anyway, fire away.

Thank you for doing this! I'll have plenty of questions soon since I'm a criminal law enthusiast and will be doing the crim intensive next winter

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How important is it to have a car when starting out?

 

Others have answered this, but I'm going to come down a little under their insistence that it's essential. It's the next closest thing to essential. You can't get by on public transit outside of very exceptional circumstances. But I know a few lawyers who do it through some combination of (a) having practices that are based very much in downtown Toronto (with waking distance access to two provincial courts, one superior court, and the main youth court), (b) access to a car on exceptional occasions when they need on (even if it involves renting one), and © professional set ups where the expectation that they respond quickly to anything is rather minimal. So, put it this way. It isn't totally impossible to start looking for articles if you don't have your own car. But it's a huge disadvantage. And over time, definitely plan on getting one.

 

Thank you for doing this! I'll have plenty of questions soon since I'm a criminal law enthusiast and will be doing the crim intensive next winter

 

Bring it. Others have been good about chipping in also of late, but I'm still monitoring and happy to reply.

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