COMMUNICATION SHAKEDOWN & OTHER ACADIANA DEFENDERS NEWS    (8 22 11)

Fall will be more than football for our PDO program.  Acadia and Vermilion have proven that vertical representation works, and Lafayette Parish Juvenile Defenders have been working on more aggressive client communication strategies that have saved in court time and provided better client services.  All of the felony defenders will soon get an inquiry packet requesting  their “Client Communication Plan” ,  including the form and content of client contact, the availability of counsel to clients for walk-ins, telephone and other communication and other important points.   Notice was given last fall at orientation that the cornerstone of our reform here was going to be a move to client centered work.  Hopefully each attorney has taken note of that and made changes accordingly.

Let’s start with come concepts that client centered standards change, considering the way we’ve done things in the past and what we have to do now:

“I don’t need to talk to the client until I have discovery.”  “I can’t tell the client anything when I’m first appointed.”   The foundation for this view is that we have things to tell the client and that the work we do is about telling the client the facts and law and then telling the client the best outcome.  Certainly the historic caseload problem has created this approach by forcing us to be on kind of a one-way street.  It takes less time, it’s more efficient in reaching a result, and it prioritizes case work based on the attorney’s perspective of giving advice.

In fact, you have an obligation to LISTEN, which obligation is independent from a professional view of whether the client will provide material, useful or dispositive information.  It is based on the client centered view that you would rely on for any client who retained you.  Well,  the PDO clients have retained you through the District Defender’s Office!   No client is going to keep an attorney whose only activity is to lecture him.  So you have to listen.

Secondary gain for the attorney is that the client who is in reasonably good mental health, having been heard, will begin to have some confidence that the lawyer, as the clients routinely say, “is interested in my case”.   This makes possible a more productive relationship.

“When I contact the client I want the plea offer so I can discuss it.”   Using the typical attorney client relationship as a reference point,  please find me a competent criminal defense attorney who would expect to be retained then not speak to the client until the DA’s plea offer arrives!  This is another rationalization for treating our clients differently.  Opening with the plea offer cuts to the result and you have told the client about the result without hearing from the client or considering the client’s view.  The only impression you make by opening with the proposed plea is that your main interest is to get the file through the process ASAP.   The result is I begin to see it the client’s way and consider that you aren’t “interested in the case”.

If you were defending BP in the oil spill case, would you actually wait and see the Chairman of the Board in London once you could say “Ok, we can settle this for 40 billion dollars”?  Do you think you would still be his lawyer by the time you got in a taxi to go to the airport?

“Clients don’t care to talk to me”.   This generalization is a bit much, but assuming some fellow who works in the oilfield as a laborer and has trouble getting off his minimum wage job really doesn’t care, the real question is this: in any retained case, criminal or civil, would you actually lay back and leave it up to the client whether to communicate with you?   Part of your legal and professional advice would be loading up the client on reasons that the client MUST talk to you.

Certainly, a letter leaving it entirely up to the client and suggesting the client does not need to talk to you is going to result in the client taking your advice!  Client communication should include your professional advice on why the client should talk to you and should encourage, cajole and urge client communication, as well as provide opportunities for the client to do so.    The interesting thing about this issue is that some lawyers say “they don’t want to talk to me” and then their staff says “we tried that and we got snowed in with too many”.   It’s easy to get the message as a client, whether at the DMV or the PDO, that people want you to shut up and listen.

Ultimately, only if you’ve made it easy, properly advised how important it is, and then find the client made a valid choice of rejecting your advice can you be in regulatory compliance by the contention that “they don’t talk to me”.   It does happen,  but it should always be against your  advice.

This is all critical and you must take a good look at  your available time and willingness to work communication in this way.  I prefer folks making the choice for themselves but my LPDB regulators and I will make the choice for you as needed.

TRAINING FOR YOUR STAFF is available for the new database.  This is a policy change as I originally came in with the view the lawyers should know the database and train their own people.   If you get new staff, call the TEAM LEADER for Business,  Chris StJulien, and set up training for that person with in 14 days so that our data, which provides our life blood funding supply, can be current.

INTERNS for the fall were only two.  For whatever reason we didn’t get the best reviews in April when the students elected internships.  I’ve taken a more active role in getting the kids some good experience in hopes we’ll get back to 7 or 8 like in the spring.  Some of it might be more of them just come into the intern program for Spring Semester, but  we have to give them some meaningful excitement so Chris is helping me schedule the two we have now.  Sorry to say we don’t have enough to assign out to law offices.

WRITS COUNSEL  Carolyn Cole has settled in as our Writs Counsel, handling any matter going to the court of appeal other than a final judgment.    We encourage you to give advance notice on potential writ issues coming up in your cases, so that Carolyn can be prepared and provide effective work for you.  Continuances are really not something we can get a writ on unless you have litigated well in advance of the trial date, made an evidentiary record, and have some unusual issues.   We won’t be trying to continue a case where your motion on the date of trial is denied: the court of appeal is going to find the issue MOOT based on the fact your trial will have started by the time the writ can be filed!   You can send Carolyn an Email to get things started on any writ issue you’ve got.  [email protected]

THINK TANKS Vermilion Parish felony defenders often get together and talk shop the week before their docket.  It helps to know what’s up and learn a bit about the shape of things coming up.  We’re doing some similar things at the HQ office and have some good results in capital defense.  The plan is to schedule up some felony versions of this so lawyers can get together for brain storming and mutual support.

INVESTIGATOR REQUEST FORM  We’ve got a PDF fillable form for requesting an investigator in your cases, located on the website with a one click mailing feature.  We will also be sending this to your office as we get requests.  Try to move to using this in the future.

TRAVAIL BIEN FAIT  to the Felony Team, including Thomas Alonzo (NG jury); Kirk Piccione (NG judge) and Randy McCann (NG jury) and the Juvenile Team for one reversal giving a client the chance to keep her kids, and two “Terminations Denied” , one each in Vermilion and Acadia.  Also to Tracy Davenport for taking the CINC TEAM LEADER spot as co-op; to Royale Colbert and Monique Kolder for representing at the Southern Public Defender Training Center 14 day training in Birmingham, Alabama.  (Bragging encouraged: send your own travail bien fait to the District Defender, we all need the encouragement)  “job well done”!!

WELCOME new counsel: Amanda Martin, Full Time Felony Defender, Vermilion and Lafayette Parishes; Chad Ikerd, Full Time Felony Defender, Track 5 Felonies, Lafayette; Carolyn Cole, Writ Counsel, all parishes; Chaz Roberts, DWI and Misdemeanors, Lafayette & Vermilion Parishes, co-op; Michael Barras, Lafayette Felonies,  co-op;  Katrina Broussard, staff, Vermilion & Lafayette.

Happy are the new grandparents, G Paul and Paula Marx,  of Oliver Tomas Quintanar, born to Sarah Marx Quintanar and Adrian Quintanar in Baton Rouge July 14th

FEAR OF GOING VERTICAL

A very good indicator that our district needs to move into the present is the rarely but too often heard question: “What does vertical representation mean?”  After all, the idea that a lawyer takes a client from arrest through appeal is about as new as Abe Lincoln!  It’s just a ‘term of art’ meaning that the client centered office will consider the people it represents as simply “the clients” and will not allow them to be placed in some second class status to make lawyers more comfortable.

Vertical just means we don’t take the case and cut it up among a number of lawyers, none of whom have the time to get to know case or client.  We treat the clients as we would prefer to be treated were we in their place.  This does likely mean more work: of course any communication or any lawyer work is “more work” if you haven’t been doing it.  But to suggest the very substantial retainers in this district don’t pay for real lawyers is to exhibit a philosophy that is inconsistent with your continued tenure here.  The days of second classing PD clients are gone, even if it’s going to take a while to replace the minimalists in this program!

There is plenty of material out there about vertical representation, but it’s like just about all the reforms.  It all boils down to clients of the PDO being treated like the real clients they are!  No cutting corners.  Unless you are clueless about what a lawyer is required to do for his or her clients, you can probably proceed to represent your clients under vertical representation without any trouble.

It doesn’t change anything!  In fact, we still can refer all our felony appeals to the La Appellate Project, and juvenile matters to Intermediate Appellate Counsel for Juvenile matters to our own Annette Roach.  The easy way to summarize everything I’m pushing for here is “client centered work”.  If that means cushy jobs are not so cushy it probably indicates more about where the program has been than where it’s going now!

gPaul Marx – District Defender