Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Strangers in a Strange Land

A wise paralegal I worked with always reminded me how frightening it is for someone to be facing a criminal charge or accusation. She spent a lot of time talking with our clients, and they opened up to her in ways they didn't with the attorneys. Why? Because she was listening, and trying to see the whole process through their eyes.

An accused faces a criminal justice system they usually don't know or understand, full of actors who all know each other and know essentially how things "proceed." The accused is told where to be and when to be there, and who he/she can and cannot communicate with, and how far he/she can travel without asking the Court's permission. All while being told by judges, prosecutors, and the defense attorney about the possible incarceration that can flow from a conviction.

It's like having surgery performed on your life - except there is no anesthetic and you are wide awake.

I'm not sure an attorney can get all the way in the shoes of the client, the accused. But it is important to try and get close. To take the time to listen, and to give simple, straightforward answers. In the end it makes the attorney's job easier and allows the client and their family members to understand what is happening. You can't eliminate all the fear or uncertainty, but it helps a great deal to eliminate what you can.

My old paralegal preached and practiced that every day (and no doubt still does) and it made all the difference in the world.

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