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Criminal Defence Lawyer in Sole Practice - Ask Me Anything

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There is nothing wrong with going low rent . Personally most sole practitioner in my area just use cell phones really a client can 't tell the difference and it gives an option for the urgent late night matters that may come in and I think it's been mention but when you are s sole your are on call 24/7 

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On 9/22/2017 at 8:12 AM, providence said:

The reality is, clients, even the unsophisticated ones, do have certain expectations. They expect you to have an office with a recognizable number to show you are legit. And they prefer you to have office staff. There are people who practice from their basements with a cell phone and a PO box, and it can be done, but it's not a client's preferred arrangement. If it's all you can afford it's all you can afford, but if you can do more, it is worth it.

I did this for a couple of years. It works ok, especially if you're doing mostly legal aid or duty counsel stuff. It doesn't work as well if you have tons of disclosure to go through with the client, like a CDSA file or something.  I live in a small city. I'd meet people at the courthouse which is 5 minutes from my house. A percentage of my clients were in jail so I'd go see them and another big chunk were in other towns so I wouldn't meet them in person before court anyway. In fact, it was fairly common among the lawyers in town to practice from home.

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On 5/18/2016 at 7:38 AM, Hegdis said:

 

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.

How much of a pain in the ass would it be to be without a car if the only police station and court house are a 15 minute walk and the nearest prison was an 8 hour drive away? I am half dreaming about the possibility of asking my higher ups to allow me to take some criminal cases (occasionally get inquires despite not being part of the current practice) but lack of a car is (one of the) obvious issue(s).

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5 hours ago, BabyRhinoRainbow said:

How much of a pain in the ass would it be to be without a car if the only police station and court house are a 15 minute walk and the nearest prison was an 8 hour drive away? I am half dreaming about the possibility of asking my higher ups to allow me to take some criminal cases (occasionally get inquires despite not being part of the current practice) but lack of a car is (one of the) obvious issue(s).

Can you sign up for a car share service like Zipcar? If you only need it occasionally that may be an option, though you'll want it to be reliable.

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6 hours ago, BabyRhinoRainbow said:

How much of a pain in the ass would it be to be without a car if the only police station and court house are a 15 minute walk and the nearest prison was an 8 hour drive away? I am half dreaming about the possibility of asking my higher ups to allow me to take some criminal cases (occasionally get inquires despite not being part of the current practice) but lack of a car is (one of the) obvious issue(s).

I doubt anyone would expect you to drive 8 hours to a prison. Maybe in rare circumstances (a huge wrongful conviction case or something, which isn’t likely to be something you’d start with.) You can communicate with people in prison via phone and letter. I would think the type of case you’d start with would either involve people not in jail or being held at the police station.

More important than not having a car is not having a mentor - if no one at your firm is doing crim and you want to do it, you need to find someone elsewhere. 

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On 3/31/2019 at 12:29 AM, BabyRhinoRainbow said:

How much of a pain in the ass would it be to be without a car if the only police station and court house are a 15 minute walk and the nearest prison was an 8 hour drive away? I am half dreaming about the possibility of asking my higher ups to allow me to take some criminal cases (occasionally get inquires despite not being part of the current practice) but lack of a car is (one of the) obvious issue(s).

Okay, so as a defence lawyer you are basically never going to go to the police station - police do not let lawyers in the room while interviewing a client.  The client can speak to the lawyer as much as they want beforehand.

I hate to disagree with @providence but from what I've heard from defence lawyers there is an expectation from clients you'll come and visit them in remand.  It's hard to impossible to do much trial prep over the phone - and you can't just call up the jail and expect to speak with your client.  Instead you have to leave a message and wait for them to hopefully call them back.

Providence is definitely right though that you'll need a mentor - taking criminal files on your own without some guidance is a sure route for disaster.

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Posted (edited)
31 minutes ago, Malicious Prosecutor said:

Okay, so as a defence lawyer you are basically never going to go to the police station - police do not let lawyers in the room while interviewing a client.  The client can speak to the lawyer as much as they want beforehand.

I hate to disagree with @providence but from what I've heard from defence lawyers there is an expectation from clients you'll come and visit them in remand.  It's hard to impossible to do much trial prep over the phone - and you can't just call up the jail and expect to speak with your client.  Instead you have to leave a message and wait for them to hopefully call them back.

Providence is definitely right though that you'll need a mentor - taking criminal files on your own without some guidance is a sure route for disaster.

To be frank, though, a junior lawyer with no in-firm mentor will probably be doing things like shoplifting, 810s, impaired and domestic assault/mischief. Very low probability of actually going to the jail in those cases (either the accused or the lawyer!). Some jails have skype-like calling now to speak with lawyers. I've even used it to finalize a CAS matter with an incarcerated client, and then met with them at the court house on the day of his assignment court.

Edited by artsydork
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28 minutes ago, Malicious Prosecutor said:

Okay, so as a defence lawyer you are basically never going to go to the police station - police do not let lawyers in the room while interviewing a client.  The client can speak to the lawyer as much as they want beforehand.

I hate to disagree with @providence but from what I've heard from defence lawyers there is an expectation from clients you'll come and visit them in remand.  It's hard to impossible to do much trial prep over the phone - and you can't just call up the jail and expect to speak with your client.  Instead you have to leave a message and wait for them to hopefully call them back.

Providence is definitely right though that you'll need a mentor - taking criminal files on your own without some guidance is a sure route for disaster.

I go to the police station all the time. You can sit in with youth clients, or spend time sitting with clients charged with serious offences and advising them before they are interviewed. The cops always allow that, because they have to. 

Of course you visit your clients in remand to do trial prep, etc. But OP was talking about a prison, and clients in prison aren’t on remand any more. The only reason to see a sentenced prisoner is to work on appeals or maybe habeas corpus applications or parole hearings. 

I assumed OP is in a small community where the remand prisoners are held at the police station. 

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4 minutes ago, artsydork said:

To be frank, though, a junior lawyer with no in-firm mentor will probably be doing things like shoplifting, 810s, impaired and domestic assault/mischief. Very low probability of actually going to the jail in those cases (either the accused or the lawyer!). Some jails have skype-like calling now to speak with lawyers. I've even used it to finalize a CAS matter with an incarcerated client, and then met with them at the court house on the day of his assignment court.

I  can't speak for other jurisdictions.  But in Alberta as a junior lawyer most of your work is probably going to come from legal aid.  Legal aid will not cover a person unless there is a risk of jail.

 

3 minutes ago, providence said:

I go to the police station all the time. You can sit in with youth clients, or spend time sitting with clients charged with serious offences and advising them before they are interviewed. The cops always allow that, because they have to. 

Of course you visit your clients in remand to do trial prep, etc. But OP was talking about a prison, and clients in prison aren’t on remand any more. The only reason to see a sentenced prisoner is to work on appeals or maybe habeas corpus applications or parole hearings. 

I assumed OP is in a small community where the remand prisoners are held at the police station. 

Good point on the distinction between prison and remand.  Yes, you will rarely want to go visit serving prisoners.

Fair point on youth clients - it probably shows I haven't done youth court in a long time.  But I will stand by my comment that I have only rarely ever heard of counsel visiting the police station.  Their advice is almost always to not give a statement.  If they do advise to give a statement it is usually somewhat later in the process (after they have reviewed disclosure), at which time the Accused would now be in remand.

And again this may just be an Alberta thing, but in our small communities prisoners are only held in cells for a day or two - until they can be transported to a regional remand centre.

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Posted (edited)
46 minutes ago, Malicious Prosecutor said:

I  can't speak for other jurisdictions.  But in Alberta as a junior lawyer most of your work is probably going to come from legal aid.  Legal aid will not cover a person unless there is a risk of jail.

 

Good point on the distinction between prison and remand.  Yes, you will rarely want to go visit serving prisoners.

Fair point on youth clients - it probably shows I haven't done youth court in a long time.  But I will stand by my comment that I have only rarely ever heard of counsel visiting the police station.  Their advice is almost always to not give a statement.  If they do advise to give a statement it is usually somewhat later in the process (after they have reviewed disclosure), at which time the Accused would now be in remand.

And again this may just be an Alberta thing, but in our small communities prisoners are only held in cells for a day or two - until they can be transported to a regional remand centre.

But Legal Aid covers where there is a risk of jail -  doesn’t mean they have to be in jail or that they ultimately get jail. They are often out on an undertaking or bail. And if you do your job properly they can end up with probation, CSO etc. 

Re: seeing clients in cells - I am talking about when they are first arrested. If the charges are serious, every good lawyer I know goes down to the police station (or has a trusted associate go) to sit with the client and advise them in person not to give a statement. If your client is facing murder or similar, you do not tell them in 5 minutes on the phone not to make a statement. You get down there and look in their eyes and tell them 100 ways not to do it and let them unload whatever they want on you and not the cops. This is happening in the first hours after arrest, before they are even transferred to jail. We don’t do that on less serious charges, of course - they get a phone call. 

It is basically like this:

- police lockup - generally within 24-48 hours of arrest. See youth clients and those with very serious charges in person, others get phone calls.

-jail while on remand - for the time period between bail denial or refusal to trial and/or sentencing - see clients in person for trial prep and other important conversations, generally regular phone calls/letters for updates, questions etc

-jail or prison after sentencing - generally not much contact - if doing appeals or prison law, go see them if the prison is close enough, otherwise most communication is by letter or phone - you might attend in person for very serious matters. There’s also the situation where a sentenced inmate/prisoner has other outstanding charges or gets charged in jail or prison and then you have to find ways to communicate. 

It’s unclear from OP where the remand inmates are held - they only mention a police station and a prison. I would think there has to be a jail too, but maybe that’s what they mean by “prison?” If the closest remand centre is 8 hours away, I doubt people drive there regularly. Perhaps there is video conferencing available?

* for those wondering, the distinction is this:

-people charged with an offence but not yet guilty will be initially taken to the police station. From there, they may be released from police custody, or they may be detained. If they are detained but they can’t get bail or choose not to apply for it, they are held in remand, either in a provincial facility, dedicated to remand inmates only or sometimes in part of a regular jail. Jail is generally for people convicted of offences who receive a sentence going forward of two years less a day or less.

Prison is for people convicted of an offence who receive a sentence of two years or more going forward. There will never be an unsentenced remand inmate there. In the general public, “jail” and “prison” are often used interchangeably, but to criminal lawyers, they have specific and separate meaning.

Edited by providence
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1 hour ago, providence said:

I go to the police station all the time. You can sit in with youth clients, or spend time sitting with clients charged with serious offences and advising them before they are interviewed. The cops always allow that, because they have to. 

Of course you visit your clients in remand to do trial prep, etc. But OP was talking about a prison, and clients in prison aren’t on remand any more. The only reason to see a sentenced prisoner is to work on appeals or maybe habeas corpus applications or parole hearings. 

I assumed OP is in a small community where the remand prisoners are held at the police station. 

I would disagree with the bolded. Police just have to facilitate access to counsel.  The only notable difference is with youth in which case they can have a lawyer present as you noted.  Things must be done differently in Toronto if you said you're always at the police station.  I've never seen a defence lawyer at a police station and none of my friends on the defence side of the bar in Alberta have ever gone to a police station.  

Where I work, accused persons first arrested get their right to phone a lawyer (assuming they want to) and then that's it until they're either released or lodged to speak to bail.  Unless there's a change in their jeopardy or they're being subject to a new investigative technique, they're not speaking to a lawyer again much less seeing one in person.  

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46 minutes ago, Stark said:

I would disagree with the bolded. Police just have to facilitate access to counsel.  The only notable difference is with youth in which case they can have a lawyer present as you noted.  Things must be done differently in Toronto if you said you're always at the police station.  I've never seen a defence lawyer at a police station and none of my friends on the defence side of the bar in Alberta have ever gone to a police station.  

Where I work, accused persons first arrested get their right to phone a lawyer (assuming they want to) and then that's it until they're either released or lodged to speak to bail.  Unless there's a change in their jeopardy or they're being subject to a new investigative technique, they're not speaking to a lawyer again much less seeing one in person.  

I’m not saying they have to legally. But when they have counsel on the phone for a murder charge, saying that the intellectually challenged client needs to see them before being interviewed, they’re not going to risk saying no. 

Most of the time I’m at the station, it’s for youth. But I do go for serious charges from time to time. I know that lawyers do this in a few different places/provinces, including Toronto. I don’t know about AB. 

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2 minutes ago, providence said:

I’m not saying they have to legally. But when they have counsel on the phone for a murder charge, saying that the intellectually challenged client needs to see them before being interviewed, they’re not going to risk saying no. 

Most of the time I’m at the station, it’s for youth. But I do go for serious charges from time to time. I know that lawyers do this in a few different places/provinces, including Toronto. I don’t know about AB. 

Fair enough and that's a valid point.  For homicide files with an intellectually challenged accused person, I think you're right that most cops would allow the lawyer in, but that's fairly limited.  Rules are also a little different around homicides. 

My point was that for the vast majority of arrested persons, a defence lawyer is not going to be allowed into a police station so proximity to a police station is not all that important.  I would think proximity to the remand centre would be more important as you'll certainly be going there.  

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13 minutes ago, Stark said:

Fair enough and that's a valid point.  For homicide files with an intellectually challenged accused person, I think you're right that most cops would allow the lawyer in, but that's fairly limited.  Rules are also a little different around homicides. 

My point was that for the vast majority of arrested persons, a defence lawyer is not going to be allowed into a police station so proximity to a police station is not all that important.  I would think proximity to the remand centre would be more important as you'll certainly be going there.  

I agree that for the vast majority of arrested adults, you’re not going to the police station, unless it’s one of those smaller communities where they sometimes hold people a few days till their bail hearings. 

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Thank you for the comments!

This discussion drives home the importance of me getting to know local practices. I know some people are remanded locally and that some are remanded in the correctional centre 8 hours away. I also know that local counsel do speak extensively with people remanded in the correctional centre by phone in a way that might be odd for a larger centre. But I don't know what is "normal" in any given situation, what clients expect, etc. 
 

But, as Artsydork says, I am envisioning impaired files and simple assaults. I have evidence that cash clients are looking for services here but who knows if they will rebuke me once they are informed of the lack of experience. 

I take all your points about having a mentor. 

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On 4/1/2019 at 11:40 AM, Malicious Prosecutor said:

police do not let lawyers in the room while interviewing a client.

Wait what? Really? Is that not a right to counsel issue?

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21 minutes ago, Demander said:

Wait what? Really? Is that not a right to counsel issue?

Youth are entitled to a lawyer in the room.  Adults are not.

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We can all thank American tv for this one. 

Canadians who are detained or arrested get their 10b right to a lawyer - they get to 1. Be informed that they have a right to counsel and there is free counsel available if needed and 2. IF they assert that right they get to speak to counsel “without delay”. The case for establishing what that phrase means is Taylor (2014 SCC) and it boils down to the facts of each case. 

Once they have spoken to counsel and confirmed they are satisfied with the advice, police can hold them for up to 24 hours post arrest and interview / interrogate then as much as they please as long as it does not overwhelm the will of the accused (eg the person must be given food and water and reasonable rest, must not be threatened or promised anything in exchange for a confession).

The only time they get another shot at calling counsel is if their jeopardy changes. For example if the victim suddenly dies and it’s no longer assault but murder. 

There is no right for adults to ha e their lawyer in the room.

Smart lawyers only give advice in person if the stakes are high. A murder suspect should expect his lawyer to come down to the cop shop and sit there with their client until the accused has been fully advised / calmed / supported. But once they leave the police can talk to them all they want. A right to silence does not equal a right not to be spoken to. 

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28 minutes ago, Demander said:

Wait what? Really? Is that not a right to counsel issue?

The Supreme Court has made it very clear that there is no right to have counsel in the room with you, as there is in the US. Adults have the right to consult with counsel by telephone as long as they want before being interviewed. Youth have the right to have counsel and/or a parent/guardian present. However, if the police consent, which they rarely do, adult accused may have a lawyer there, but it is not their right.

In practice where the charges involve a loss of life or potential loss of life, police often do let lawyers attend the police station and sit with the accused BEFORE they are interviewed, but not during.

Also, if someone’s jeopardy changes ie. the potential victim dies, or more evidence is found, they should be given another phone call to counsel. 

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Posted (edited)

@Hegdis what is the reasoning for that? Intuitively it seems that since anything in that interaction is subject to the criminal process by the state, and since the police are an arm of the state, that any accused would/should have the right to have a lawyer present. 

Without them, you would have to hope the cops act in good faith, don't abuse your client, in order for it not to happen. Otherwise they have to sit there and take it, and if anything shady did happen that the accused couldn't understand is shady, their only recourse would be having that interaction come out somehow in disclosure (No?).

 

Edit: I should probably just read the case you cited.

Edited by pzabbythesecond

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