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Criminal Defence Lawyer in Sole Practice - Ask Me Anything


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#301 Trigger

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Posted 31 December 2016 - 03:44 AM

Thanks for this thread. It's one of the more interesting and informative ones on this website.

 

You talk a lot about picking up all the legal aid work you can get. What are your thoughts on catering your practice towards crimes that might snag you some wealthier clientele? Have you noticed any trends among your cash-paying clients?

 

I'd imagine the areas of criminal defense which tend to be indiscriminate to social class would be impaired's, sex crimes, professional discipline (Police Services Act, Nurses, Physicians, Lawyers, Accountants, etc.) Do you think these areas could be more reliable in terms of financial security?



#302 Diplock

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Posted 31 December 2016 - 04:29 AM

Without pretending to have more expertise than I really do, there are areas of the law that certainly do provide more cash clients. Impaired is the classic example. There are definitely lawyers who specialize in this, and it's its own niche. The lawyers who build a practice in this area do very well. Other areas of law are harder to specialize in. While a few lawyers are known for a few things, it's hard to market yourself as a "sex crime" lawyer, and do so well enough that when some random member of the public is charged with molesting the nanny you're the lawyer he thinks of to the exclusion of other lawyers.

 

I suppose you can spend some time thinking of ways to market yourself. Maybe you'll think of something original. But the bottom line issue is this. Your practice is you. If you open a coffee shop, you can "cater" to a particular clientele based on your products, your atmosphere, the sort of experience you offer, etc. In a legal practice, it's just you. You're the entire product. So how are you going to cater yourself to a particular kind of business? You quickly realize the same thing many other lawyers have realized. That when we're talking about a client who has money and options, you don't have any realistic way to compete with more experienced, more established lawyers who have better reputations than yours. Ask yourself - if you were faced with a serious criminal charge, and you had the money to exercise a fair amount of choice, would you hire you? Hell, would you even hire me? Wouldn't you want someone with 20 years of experience?

 

Realistically, you start off taking what you can get, and when you do it really well you get opportunities to do more. Some client that you've served well on petty stuff gets charged with something serious. Some senior lawyer sees that you're doing a good job and invites you second chair a jury trial, or asks you to represent a co-accused on a major case. Opportunities come. But is there a clever way to short-circuit all of that, and to set out fresh on the market and somehow convince clients who have money and choice that you're the lawyer for them, despite the fact that you're so obviously green? Maybe. But if there is a way to do that, I don't know what it is.


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#303 Diplock

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Posted 31 December 2016 - 01:31 PM

One further point to Trigger's question above. I meant to address this in my last post, but forgot. "Professional discipline" is not really within criminal law at all. It's administrative law. If you're interested in this area at all, pay attention in law school and you'll quickly see how the difference is meaningful. The same rules and rights that apply to criminal law do not necessarily apply here. Although some criminal lawyers do slide into this area, on occasion, it isn't natural or obvious that we should. If anything, it happens more because clients expect it and because professional discipline feels like criminal law to them.


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#304 ThrillainManila

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Posted 01 January 2017 - 02:08 PM

Is it time-consuming doing both the administrative tasks (always answering the phone, responding to emails, filing everything, so on) and the lawyer related tasks involved in actually representing your clients? Do you intend on hiring a legal assistant or paralegal in the future as you expand or would you rather keep your overhead low and do it yourself? 



#305 Diplock

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Posted 01 January 2017 - 09:47 PM

Is it time-consuming doing both the administrative tasks (always answering the phone, responding to emails, filing everything, so on) and the lawyer related tasks involved in actually representing your clients? Do you intend on hiring a legal assistant or paralegal in the future as you expand or would you rather keep your overhead low and do it yourself? 

 

Well ... yes. Since you basically asked about all of my job, and asked if the whole is time consuming, I'd have to agree that it is. I work a lot. =)

 

Ultimately, I'd love to be able to hire and fully employ an assistant. But it's a huge expense that would more than double my overhead immediately, and it's hard to justify that at present. One thing I've noticed about young professionals is that they tend to underestimate the cost of hiring good help. It always makes me laugh (and then, eventually, rant) that people who estimate their own worth at $100k/year or more believe they should be able to hire competent help in the $25-30k/year range. I believe it would be possible to find someone willing to work as an assistant for $30k. But someone good would start at $40k minimum. When you're trusting someone to take your calls, handle your schedule, etc., you can't afford to fuck around. Someone doing that job badly could be far worse than having no one at all. So in my opinion, you don't hire someone until you can afford to hire someone good.

 

As a side note, there are people who can perform specific tasks for set money, and help to relieve some of your burden in that way. And after hours answering service comes to mind. But yeah, taking the leap from no staff to one staff member is probably the hardest step to manage in a practice, and I haven't managed it yet.


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#306 providence

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Posted 21 January 2017 - 09:00 PM

Thanks for this thread. It's one of the more interesting and informative ones on this website.

 

You talk a lot about picking up all the legal aid work you can get. What are your thoughts on catering your practice towards crimes that might snag you some wealthier clientele? Have you noticed any trends among your cash-paying clients?

 

I'd imagine the areas of criminal defense which tend to be indiscriminate to social class would be impaired's, sex crimes, professional discipline (Police Services Act, Nurses, Physicians, Lawyers, Accountants, etc.) Do you think these areas could be more reliable in terms of financial security?

 

In my experience:

 

Impaired clients often do have cash to spend.

Sex crimes - it depends - some do, some don't.

Professional discipline - not dealt with in the criminal courts and is a niche area of practice.

 

Other areas where people may have money:

 

Domestic violence

Drug crimes

Fraud

Driving offences

Traffic tickets

 

I have a mix of legal aid and cash - maybe half and half?  I like having a mix.  Legal Aid provides some certainty that you will get paid.  It also tends to provide more interesting and advanced cases.  I just did my first murder on Legal Aid, and I can't imagine that I would be likely to get a murder on cash for some time. I actually don't enjoy impaired cases much, and only do them for the money.  Cash however pays better and isn't subject to the government's whim like Legal Aid is.

 

The thing with cash is, as others have said, you earn it.  You're not entitled to it and you don't just start getting it.  You have to balance your expectations.  The people with large amounts to spend are usually sophisticated enough to know who the really great lawyers are.  If they're spending a bundle, they want to spend it on Marie Henein, not me, alas.  My cash targets are the people who don't qualify for Legal Aid but have jobs and they can scrape together a few hundred a month for me and borrow a bit so by the time of trial, a decent amount is in.  Or the people who are aware they can't afford Henein and are willing to pay less for someone decent recommended by someone else.

 

Most of my cash clients are referrals from other lawyers who have liked my work, or friends who practise in other fields, or people who read about a case I did in the news, or friends of friends - in other words, it comes through networking and reputation over time.  I haven't found advertising etc. to be particularly effective.  The more sophisticated clients can tell if someone is inexperienced and trying to talk themselves up.  The unsophisticated ones will take anyone who happens to be in the right place at the right time.  

 

You can't really "cater your practice" to anything in the first few years - you're just learning, building skills, building your reputation and trying to become competent in as uch as you can.  Specializing is really for someone much further out who has the experience and the means to do that.  I would love to be known as a "drug lawyer" but it takes time and a looooot of drug cases to get there.


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#307 providence

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Posted 21 January 2017 - 09:01 PM

Is it time-consuming doing both the administrative tasks (always answering the phone, responding to emails, filing everything, so on) and the lawyer related tasks involved in actually representing your clients? Do you intend on hiring a legal assistant or paralegal in the future as you expand or would you rather keep your overhead low and do it yourself? 

 

It is and there is no way I could do it, which is why I joined up with others so we can pool our resources to have support staff.  If it's an option to go in with 2 or 3 other people, consider doing that.


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#308 ThrillainManila

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Posted 21 January 2017 - 09:17 PM

It is and there is no way I could do it, which is why I joined up with others so we can pool our resources to have support staff.  If it's an option to go in with 2 or 3 other people, consider doing that.

did you start straight out of law school or did you work for someone else's practice before starting your own?



#309 providence

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Posted 21 January 2017 - 09:35 PM

did you start straight out of law school or did you work for someone else's practice before starting your own?

 

Articled w a "larger" crim firm, then set up shop with some other lawyers (not all new calls - some were leaving their firms.)



#310 Chief

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Posted 30 January 2017 - 08:53 PM

@Diplock, 

 

Do you feel (is there reason to feel) that the courtroom over-time has turned out to be a competition between Lawyers, instead of a mindset on only prosecuting crime/defending your client?

 

Thanks! :grin:


Edited by Chief, 30 January 2017 - 09:32 PM.


#311 Hegdis

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Posted 30 January 2017 - 09:29 PM

Overtime?

#312 Jaggers

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Posted 30 January 2017 - 09:32 PM

I think it's "over time"...


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#313 providence

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Posted 30 January 2017 - 09:43 PM

I was thinking, overtime?  Like hockey? 

 

Over time makes a loooooot more sense.

 

The Crown is supposed to be the minister of justice, not interested in winning or losing, but seeking the truth.  Defence is supposed to zealously defend their client within the bounds of ethics.

 

In practice, I find that there are lots of Crowns who want to win.  Lawyers are smart, competitive, often ego-driven people who don't like losing and get validation from winning. For defence, zealously defending your client means trying to win.

 

I don't see it as competition between lawyers, because it is the judge who decides, so you are trying to convince the judge, not get sidetracked by a pissing competition with the other side.  I do find that some Crowns like to try to undermine more junior defence lawyers in front of the judge, but that backfires sometimes.


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#314 Diplock

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Posted 30 January 2017 - 10:08 PM

I think it's "over time"...

 

I seriously wouldn't have got this, without help. I was thinking it was a student who believed the long hours that lawyers put in are somehow all spent in court. Was struggling with that one.

 

I'd like to give this question a serious answer, but I feel like it's coming from such a naive perspective that it's hard to grapple with the assumptions behind it. What is a "competition between lawyers" anyway, divorced from trying to achieve your client's goals? Are you asking if I'm somehow attracted to "winning" even if it means my client gets a bad result? I win when my client gets a good result. That's what winning means. I have a hard time even thinking about it in other terms.

 

There is the odd time when a lawyer's self-interest may conflict with a client's. For example, in civil law, a lawyer may have an opportunity to encourage their client to settle for a good deal or push the matter on to a trial, where the result is unlikely to get better for the client but where the lawyer will be able to bill a lot more. But that's not what you're asking. That still isn't about somehow beating opposing counsel at the expense of your client. That's just soaking your client for unnecessary legal costs. And that's bad, absolutely, but not what you've asked.

 

Then there's the question (which was asked some pages ago) about what obligation lawyers may have to serve "justice" in some abstract sense above their clients' interests. And that one is complicated. But again, justice isn't about beating opposing counsel in that question.

 

I'm sorry, but I'm afraid I don't particularly even understand. What do you think a competition between lawyers would look like, except described in terms of trying to get what their clients want?


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#315 providence

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Posted 30 January 2017 - 10:29 PM

I think it means forgetting who you are trying to convince and engaging in a battle of wills with the Crown instead of focussing on the judge and/or jury.

 

Like when defence get so invested in trying to nag or shame the Crown into a joint recommendation, instead of having the guts to take it to a judge.  Or engaging in unnecessary snark and bickering with each other.  Or, for the Crown, trying to win at all costs (it's OK for defence to do this as long as it's ethical.)  


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#316 Diplock

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Posted 30 January 2017 - 11:00 PM

I think it means forgetting who you are trying to convince and engaging in a battle of wills with the Crown instead of focussing on the judge and/or jury.

 

Like when defence get so invested in trying to nag or shame the Crown into a joint recommendation, instead of having the guts to take it to a judge.  Or engaging in unnecessary snark and bickering with each other.  Or, for the Crown, trying to win at all costs (it's OK for defence to do this as long as it's ethical.)  

 

It ... could mean that. I guess. But I'm taking this as coming from an undergrad. I really doubt it's that sophisticated.



#317 Pyke

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Posted 31 January 2017 - 07:17 AM

I think it means forgetting who you are trying to convince and engaging in a battle of wills with the Crown instead of focussing on the judge and/or jury.

 

Like when defence get so invested in trying to nag or shame the Crown into a joint recommendation, instead of having the guts to take it to a judge.  Or engaging in unnecessary snark and bickering with each other.  Or, for the Crown, trying to win at all costs (it's OK for defence to do this as long as it's ethical.)  

 

I'm so confused by this post.



#318 providence

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Posted 31 January 2017 - 07:44 AM

I'm so confused by this post.

 

What's confusing about it?  The question was about trials being a competition between lawyers instead of a search for the truth or whatever else they are supposed to be, and I was agreeing that sometimes it can seem that way - that Crown and defence focus more on each other's positions and personalities than that.


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#319 serdog

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Posted 09 February 2017 - 09:39 PM

Five  six thing I've discovered as a new criminal defence lawyer

1) people will use free services and leave that is ok when we are new but be careful because it takes time

2) learn train watch when you are not busy which is lots when you are new

3) It is a about the money in part it is a business(this is the hardest part for me)

4) Fake til you make plan work train prepare and go with confidence Judges can see it 

5) Be firm with client don't sugar coat stuff try to make sure you can be instructed on a reasonable position

6) Know your clients goals and how to met them. for exsamople  you very well maybe able to win a trial get your name in the paper but if your client say "I just don't want to go back to jail" and crown says "a CSO is possible on a early guilty plea". You want to look at that hard because that mets your clients goals (of course be real with your client and let them know you can may win the trial but if they lose in may be back to jail) 



#320 Demander

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Posted 12 February 2017 - 07:53 PM

Articled w a "larger" crim firm, then set up shop with some other lawyers (not all new calls - some were leaving their firms.)

I have heard that crim firms hire very few articling students... are there particular factors (everyone did a crim clinic/intensive; everyone had a mooting award; everyone had previously summered in a crim-related job etc) that you think dominated the cohort of crim firm articling students?



#321 Diplock

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Posted 12 February 2017 - 08:48 PM

I have heard that crim firms hire very few articling students... are there particular factors (everyone did a crim clinic/intensive; everyone had a mooting award; everyone had previously summered in a crim-related job etc) that you think dominated the cohort of crim firm articling students?

 

Of course I'm happy to let providence or anyone else reply. But I think you're probably not thinking on the proper scale if you are asking about "cohorts" of articling students, even at larger firms. Remember that a "large" criminal defence firm might be a dozen lawyers. If a firm consistently has even one or two students at all times that's a lot. The notion of a "cohort" of students anywhere is basically a mistake.

 

Although others may differ, I cannot possibly imagine that the things you'd be likely to see in a student employed by a "large" crim firm would be different from the things you'd see in a student employed by a sole. So, yes, relevant clinical work, good marks in related courses, a relevant moot, I suppose (though personally, I happen to not put a lot of stock in mooting - personal bias) and if you have any related experience, that's great.

 

Also, I'm not sure if this was an implicit part of your question or not, but don't assume that articling at a "large" defence firm represents the best possible position or experience. Many of the top lawyers in our game operate in very small practices. For example, probably the biggest name in the field is Brian Greenspan. Here's a link to his firm. Six lawyers, in total. I believe that's three partners and three associates, though it isn't obvious from the bios. Regardless, articling with Brian Greenspan would represent the sort of opportunity that most students would give a limb for. But it's hardly a "large" firm. And I can't imagine they have more than one student per year.

 

Hope that helps.



#322 Demander

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Posted 12 February 2017 - 10:15 PM

Of course I'm happy to let providence or anyone else reply. But I think you're probably not thinking on the proper scale if you are asking about "cohorts" of articling students, even at larger firms. Remember that a "large" criminal defence firm might be a dozen lawyers. If a firm consistently has even one or two students at all times that's a lot. The notion of a "cohort" of students anywhere is basically a mistake.

 

Although others may differ, I cannot possibly imagine that the things you'd be likely to see in a student employed by a "large" crim firm would be different from the things you'd see in a student employed by a sole. So, yes, relevant clinical work, good marks in related courses, a relevant moot, I suppose (though personally, I happen to not put a lot of stock in mooting - personal bias) and if you have any related experience, that's great.

 

Also, I'm not sure if this was an implicit part of your question or not, but don't assume that articling at a "large" defence firm represents the best possible position or experience. Many of the top lawyers in our game operate in very small practices. For example, probably the biggest name in the field is Brian Greenspan. Here's a link to his firm. Six lawyers, in total. I believe that's three partners and three associates, though it isn't obvious from the bios. Regardless, articling with Brian Greenspan would represent the sort of opportunity that most students would give a limb for. But it's hardly a "large" firm. And I can't imagine they have more than one student per year.

 

Hope that helps.

 

Thanks! I guess "cohort" is a bit optimistic. Out of curiosity, what's the reason for your bias against mooting?



#323 Diplock

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Posted 13 February 2017 - 12:34 AM

Thanks! I guess "cohort" is a bit optimistic. Out of curiosity, what's the reason for your bias against mooting?

 

I just hate play pretend anything. I'd rather someone who has met with, like, one real client than someone who has elaborately prepared submissions in a fictitious case. Again, that's personal bias. That isn't to say I'll dismiss someone who as mooted. Only that I won't be impressed by it. A criminal moot would at least demonstrate real interest in the field (which is good) but I'd still rather a candidate who did a criminal rotation at a clinic.

 

To repeat, this is a personal bias. Everyone as them. The next lawyer (likely someone who had a good experience mooting) might feel completely the opposite.


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#324 providence

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Posted 15 February 2017 - 10:10 PM

I have heard that crim firms hire very few articling students... are there particular factors (everyone did a crim clinic/intensive; everyone had a mooting award; everyone had previously summered in a crim-related job etc) that you think dominated the cohort of crim firm articling students?

If by "cohort" you mean the people in your year who articled in crim, there were several of us in my year.  Some were at Legal Aid, some were at "bigger" firms, ("bigger" is relative, as Diplock said),some were at small firms or with soles.  There was usually only one student per firm, maybe two at some of the "bigger" firms.  I articled at a bigger, more well-known shop.  

 

I would say that most of us had done clinic and crim-focussed courses in law school and had summered in crim firms, often the one we ultimately articled at.  Not everyone had mooted but some had.  I did moot, on the national level, and I did find it to be helpful, unlike Diplock.  The facts are totally artificial, but the process and the emotions are not.  Learning how to prep is relevant.  Plus the training you get is invaluable and most of your fellow students are not getting that.  Most crim lawyers are looking for students who are dedicated to and want careers in crim, not just doing it because they'll article anywhere.  They also want students who are comfortable with the work, the lifestyle, the types of clients, the social issues, etc.  Many of us also had volunteer and non-law or pre-law experience that would suggest we had people skills, were comfortable with diversity, were non-judgmental, aware of poverty etc.  


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#325 providence

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Posted 15 February 2017 - 10:11 PM

I just hate play pretend anything. I'd rather someone who has met with, like, one real client than someone who has elaborately prepared submissions in a fictitious case. Again, that's personal bias. That isn't to say I'll dismiss someone who as mooted. Only that I won't be impressed by it. A criminal moot would at least demonstrate real interest in the field (which is good) but I'd still rather a candidate who did a criminal rotation at a clinic.

 

To repeat, this is a personal bias. Everyone as them. The next lawyer (likely someone who had a good experience mooting) might feel completely the opposite.

 

Both would be ideal - you've dealt with real clients and also proved your mettle in a fake trial.