For many years, Phoenix-based attorney Ruth Carter was a mental health care professional, “Which was excellent preparation for what I do now as a lawyer, dealing with clients whose emotional problems–their mental state--have contributed to the legal issues which brought them into my office.”
Clients are often confused about their rights. My paralegal, Anne, puts it this way: “What a client thinks is right, is his right.”
Carter takes that statement one step further: “The law does not care about what you know or believe or what you believe. The law does not care about your feelings. The law is only interested in what you can prove. Hiring a lawyer does not guarantee a positive outcome if those elements of proof aren’t present,” she underscores.
That can be critically important in criminal cases, where a client’s behavior —what a client believes is appropriate — turns out to be anything but.
Mike, a Central California reader, illustrated that concept beautifully by placing a bowl of milk into which was added Cayenne pepper, Tapatio and Sriracha sauce, then placed at the exact spot where daily, at 4 a.m., his next-door neighbor’s Tom Cat would perform an opera.
“After a couple of sips of Dr. Mike’s Milkshake, the cat went air-born, and talk about reaching the high notes! He hasn’t returned. I solved my sleep-deprivation problem,” Mike explained.
Days later, a letter from the District Attorney’s Office arrived asking for an office meeting to discuss animal cruelty.
“The DA offered to not file charges if I would take an online animal cruelty course, and both my wife and lawyer immediately agreed, but I wanted to go to court and defend myself. I did nothing wrong! The cat had it coming! No jury would ever convict me! I watch Judge Judy and know my rights!” Mike explained, with a voice becoming progressively louder and higher in pitch.
At that moment, his wife grabbed the phone. “Mr. Beaver, our lawyer was able to get the DA to give us a week to decide, and I had to kick my husband under the table so he would shut up! Will you please talk some sense into him! Since his stroke he’s become increasingly short-tempered and angry.”
Since his stroke. In an instant all the humor vanished. “This poor guy,” I thought, “his wife dealing with the results of a brain injury.” I had to get him to agree.
“Mike, you’ve read my column for years and I know you trust me otherwise we would not be talking now. Will you do what I say?” “I trust you, Mr. Beaver. I will,” he said so quietly I could barely hear him. He sounded about to cry.
“The on-line class is a way of making the legal problem go away without admitting that you were at fault. If Tom Cat returns, have your lawyer deal with it. No more Kitty Milkshakes. Deal? “Deal, Mr. Beaver.”
“Today clients have easy access to an enormous amount of legal and medical information,” Carter notes, “from many on-line sources, television programs, such as Judge Judy and Dr. Oz, just to name two. While much of the information is useful, no matter how many hours you spend watching these shows, no one will hand you a medical or law degree.”
“Your reader, Mike, is a good example. He watches Judge Judy ‘and knows his rights,’ which are comments lawyers are hearing much more often now than at any other time in the past,” she notes.
“So, what is the risk in having a client who has some legal education, even if it only comes from legal websites?” I asked.
“Dennis,” she replied, “You know the old saying about a little knowledge being a dangerous thing. Now it is not just a little knowledge that clients can acquire online, but a great deal of information. Time and time again, we find this leads to a dangerous degree of self-assurance, resulting in:
- The client knows there’s a problem, and has the attitude, “Well, it isn’t really all that serious and can be handled with no need to involve a lawyer.”
- Weeks or months go by, and the problem–which a lawyer could have addressed quickly and economically–is now much more serious when consulted.
- During the case, our know-it-all client tries to micro-manage the attorney, and the case is badly compromised or lost.
“Lawyers want to help. It’s in our DNA. We welcome and need questions from our clients. We also need them to let us do our work,” Carter concludes.
Ruth Carter’s website is... www.carterlawaz.com. It merits a long visit.