Lawyering: Now What?: 4 Things to Remember After You’ve Gotten Started

  1. Never Stop Working

The first time you make a bit of money, it may be tempting to shift your focus to other cases, or, actually enjoying what you’ve made up to this point. DON’T. As a young lawyer starting out on your own, you’re at a severe disadvantage when you take on cases. First, you have a lack of experience with not only actually handling the legal issues in the cases, but experience being in front of the particular judges, and dealing with the prosecutors in each particular court you’re in.

From my experience up to this point, never underestimate the importance of relationships in criminal law. It sounds cliché, but your first impression that you give to people you work with is the one that sticks with people, and one that will be extremely difficult to change. If you’re a solo practitioner in criminal law, prosecutors are technically your coworkers for each case. That all goes to say, as a young attorney, you’re going to have to outwork more experienced attorneys, as they’ve got the benefit of time on their side.

 

  1. Take Every Opportunity Given

Just being frank, when you’re a young attorney, you’re going to have to take cases where clients don’t have your full amount of money upfront, or get paid in other ways. While by no means am I saying take cases that you feel uncomfortable about, or are morally opposed to, sometimes you’re going to have to accept alternate forms of payment, or things of the sort. For example, one of my first cases as an attorney involved being paid in the form of a lien on a client’s personal injury settlement. While I needed the money at the the time, I also needed clients, so I accepted the lien, and ended up getting his case dismissed. I thought that I would never end up getting paid on the case, but lo and behold, I received a check in the mail last month for the full amount of my fee, all at once. It made the month a little bit more special.

 

  1. Never stop learning

I think that I briefly covered this in one of my previous articles, but I cannot state it enough. NEVER STOP READING THE LAW. NEVER. STOP. READING. THE. LAW. Law is a fluid practice. Court decisions happen every day that create new precedents, which in turn affects your cases, as well as everyone else’s. Don’t be the one that’s a bit behind.

 

  1. Be Yourself

Above all else, never let an occupation, or passion change who you are at heart. Clients relate to someone that can relate to them. Putting on a fake version of yourself, or thinking you need to act a certain way because you’re an attorney, isn’t what makes you a better attorney, or what makes clients relate to you. My mentor told me to always be myself, and that was probably the single best piece of advice I’ve been given up to this point.

5 Quick Ways to Get Your Practice Off the Ground

hints_btnAs stated in my first article for Reasonable Doubt, I plan to continue to write articles to aid young lawyers such as myself. In this piece, I outline 5 quick ways to make your transition from struggling law student to struggling criminal defense lawyer a little bit easier.

  1. Run Lean

This might be the most important piece of advice I have ever been given. My mother and father ran their own medical practice, and they always used to preach the importance of keeping your expenses low. As someone that started my own law practice shortly after passing the bar, I cannot emphasize this enough. Unless you know something I don’t, money is VERY short when you’re starting your own practice, so unnecessary expenses can sink you before you start. Don’t fall prey to online advertisers that constantly call you promising a certain amount of clients for a price, it’s not the best way to allocate money. Try to find an experienced lawyer that has extra space in his/her office and needs help with resets, or other things they don’t feel like doing. It’s a much better way to approach starting a practice, and it helps provide invaluable experience.

  1. Find Experienced Mentors

Again, unless you know something that I don’t, when you start off practicing criminal law, you do NOT know what you’re doing. Having as many mentors as possible is invaluable, as they are valuable resources to bounce ideas off of, as well as people that can help you with any number of things, whether it’s sitting with you at trial, or helping with motions. Oftentimes, a problem that you have no idea how to solve is something that an experienced lawyer has done many times over, especially when you’re starting off. (HCCLA has an excellent mentoring program comprised of “second chair” and “brainstorming” opportunities.)

  1. Stay Organized

As a horribly disorganized person working to right my wrongs, STAY ORGANIZED! Use law practice management software, and make sure to collect money from clients in a way that works for you. Personally, I use Square Invoicing, Clio, and Docusign. Square Invoicing allows me to automatically import payments into my Quickbooks, which makes accounting easier. Clio simply allows me to keep track of what’s going on in my practice. Docusign allows me to electronically store all of my representation contracts online, which is easier than having to keep up with a bunch of paper contracts. And no, I’m not getting paid to promote any of those apps.

  1. Stay Updated on the Law

One of the best pieces of advice that I was given since I’ve became an attorney was given to me by the esteemed Robert Alton Jones, my mentor. He told me that once you become a lawyer, you cannot stop reading the law. While this may seem like a very basic piece of advice, keeping up with the law can prove to be invaluable. Read law journals, and subscribe to Justia updates online. Oftentimes, having a figurative “bag of tricks” can save one of your clients in a pinch.

  1. Be Respectful

Finally, DO NOT let being an attorney go to your head. At the end of the day, it’s a job just like anything else. Be respectful to not only clients, but court staff and prosecutors. Prosecutors are people just like anybody else, and they see tons of defense attorneys. Be the one that stands out because of how respectful and agreeable you are, not the one that stands out because they hate dealing with you. Also, help from court staff is invaluable, because every court has different rules. Having them on your side can bail you out when you make your inevitable rookie mistake. You can get more flies with honey than vinegar…or something like that.

Deferred Adjudication Ain’t So Sweet: Immigration Nationality Act

Sharing an office with a veteran Immigration attorney definitely gives me exposure to people who are facing immigration troubles because of criminal charges. We have a nice system where I handle the criminal portion and then he covers the immigration. Because our clients are not citizens, their criminal cases require different approaches to hopefully avoid immigration consequences. I understand that most criminal defense attorneys don’t practice immigration but there are still simple basics, which attorneys and people should know regarding “Crimmigration”.

The simplest and most basic rule of crimmigration is… any form of conviction stays on your record in the eyes of immigration. EVERYTHING. The reason is because Immigration Law is Federal law and they have adopted their own rules called the Immigration Nationality Act (INA). And, the INA definition of “conviction” is harsher than you would think.

For example, an undocumented person charged with a crime in state court could be eligible for a deferred adjudication with dismissal after 6 months. Yet, this would still be a conviction under the eyes of Immigration. Deferred adjudication is a form of probation where if you stick to the conditions of your probation after a set period of time, the court will dismiss your case. That’s a great situation for the majority of people because the case is dismissed. However, under INA a deferred adjudication can still be a conviction if the record “admits sufficient facts to warrant a finding of guilt.” This means that if the judge says “Person X, we find that you committed theft at Wal-Mart but instead of finding you guilty we will place you on deferred adjudication,” that is enough to be deemed convicted under Immigration Law.

So what does that leave us with? Honestly, an uphill battle but one that we can still be strategic about. Obviously, one should always go for the dismissal or the not guilty; however, we live in a real world and sometimes those results aren’t always available. At that point sometimes a well formulated plea agreement can really save your client from harsh immigration consequences. Maybe some pre-trial programs where you don’t admit to any facts could be a good alternative. For example, I had a great case of a girl who was in the USA on a Dream Act Visa. She was the valedictorian of her class, tried to be cool and consumed LSD at school. Let’s just say she regretted it really bad approximately 2 hours into the trip when school nurses were around her trying to calm her down. A local county brought charges against her for possession of a controlled substance. My client admitted to me taking LSD but claimed she didn’t know it would be that intense. The prosecutor laughed at the facts and was willing to offer her deferred adjudication if she completed drug tests and other similar conditions. But REMEMBER: deferred adjudication is still a conviction under INA so that would ruin her immigration status. So instead, the prosecutor and I agreed to some pre-trial conditions and if she satisfied them they would dismiss the case. Luckily my client successfully completed all the conditions, the prosecutor dismissed the case, and my client was eligible to reapply for her immigration status.

My job as an Immigration and Criminal Defense attorney compels me to try to get the best outcome for my clients. Knowing the rules of Immigration helps me to arrange deals with prosecutors that will have the least immigration consequence on my clients. I hope that by understanding that a deferred adjudication can still be a conviction, it may prompt some lawyers and clients to find alternative ways of handling a case.