One phenomenon of our profession is that different clients tend to ask the same questions over and over. The ones generated by unfamiliarity with the process are easy. They come from clients sincerely attempting to obtain a roadmap for a journey over unfamiliar terrain. The troublesome questions are the whiny philosophical inquiries that inevitably come from clients whose inability to acknowledge at least some responsibility for the consequences of bad choices made quickly becomes a nagging irritant. These same clients are burdened with narcissistic myopias that prevent them from appreciating how unfavorably they are perceived by others. Their nasal, why-me questions often trigger intemperate, unlawyerlike responses.
Many lawyers I know-none I know well, and certainly not I-pride themselves on having a ready supply of quick comebacks and snappy repartee to respond to these too-familiar inquiries. Set forth below are a number of attorney-client dialogues reported to me by anonymous members of the bar who, through nameless, by these contributions enhance the lore of our practices.
"Wow. That's a lot of money. What can you guarantee me for a fee that large?"
"You want a guarantee, buy a Maytag. You want a lawyer, pay the retainer."
"Why won't they just drop the charges? Why don't they understand I'm not guilty?"
"I'm not a philosopher. I'm a lawyer. I don't answer "Why" questions."
Fair or Foul?
"You mean they can arrest me just on his word alone?"
"Well that's not fair."
"I didn't say it was fair. That's just the way the system works."
"But it shouldn't be that way."
"Look, I'm just a mechanic, not an architect. I didn't design the system. I just try to make it work."
Zero Percent Financing
"Well, I don't have that much money right now. How about I pay you $25 every other week."
"Look, when you say that what you're really asking me to do is loan you money. You just walked into my office. I'm sure you're a nice person but I don't even know you. Talk to your friends and borrow the money from them. I'm sure the people who know you will be glad to help you out."
Why Me, Lord?
"What's the matter with the
Government? Don't they have any real criminals to prosecute?"
"I can see your point, but although you and I don't agree with them, some people might say a $500,000 embezzlement is a real crime. I'll tell you what, though, the next time I'm at the US Attorneys Office, I'll ask the prosecutor that question, OK?"
The Slow Fee
"Counsel, are you ready to dispose of this case today?"
"Well, I'd like to Your Honor, but our key witness, Mr. Green, has not yet appeared. My client tells me it will be two weeks before he becomes available. May we have a continuance for that long Your Honor?"
A True Patriot
The best lawyer comeback to a client question I ever heard, though, took place several years ago. Nine defendants were charged in a federal conspiracy. It was time for a meeting. The lawyers and their respective clients, all eighteen of us, gathered around a large conference table in the office of counsel for one of the defendants. That lawyer, call him Fred, led the meeting as we tried to analyze the Government's case. The conversation turned to possible wiretaps.
The lead defendant, John's client, was upset. He slammed his fist on the inlaid leather table and started screaming. "Wiretaps??? Wiretaps!!! You mean those bastards can tap our phones and use that in Court?"
Fred was calm. "Well, yes they can if there's a proper court order."
The client was outraged. He punched the air with his finger pointed in Fred's direction:
"Well, I just got one question: Is this f---ing America, or what?"
The room fell silent. Everyone was tense. We all looked at Fred. Fred was calm. He turned to the angry client's lawyer and said, "Well, John, he's your client. Why don't you answer that question." The client is still waiting for John's answer.
I guess it's all a question of style. Some lawyers bite their tongues while others, less temperate, can't resist the snappy come-back.
Ba da boom.