When I was in uniform defending Soldiers in Germany and later at Fort Hood, Texas, I found myself stressed and on the brink of exhaustion. I was trying to carry an entire case for many clients who were unwilling to aid in their own defense. I did not understand the vital boundary I needed to draw for those clients, that I would not care more about their futures than they did. I took it all on myself, and it was needlessly exhausting.
In large part, the clients who refused to be in the trench with me were living in utter denial about their situation. It was more than they could bear. I see that now. Then, I only really saw the surface – their apathy. Now, I understand it to be a symptom of their own overload.
When I take on a client now, I require him to explain to me how committed they are to their own defense. A military service member being accused of an offense is a critical component to his own defense. Most often, he was there; I was not. The prosecutor only knows one side, but I get to know both. And that is strategic advantage. If the client is willing to help me understand his experience.
If I don’t receive the assurance of the client being a part of his defense team, I pass on the case and explain the client is not a good fit for the firm. What I explain is that I need him to seek behavioral health support, meditation, whatever it is that will get him to a place where he can put forth the effort. I understand better than I would like that the apathy is a defense mechanism.
Often these clients cannot bear to relieve the trauma (yes, they experience trauma in their investigation) of the allegations. They won’t watch the complainant’s recorded interview, and if they gave a statement to law enforcement, they won’t want to watch that either. Even reading the reports is nearly unbearable.
These clients will typically also put off meetings with their lawyer, burying themselves in work. Work is really busy, they explain.
My response? “Work” is what is trying to convict you, imprison you, and try to ensure your life will never be the same. When you decide that your case is more important to you than the side who is trying to incarcerate you, maybe then you’ll be in a place to contribute to your defense.
I said these same lines today to someone who wanted to postpone an initial consult with me (that his wife had scheduled – red flag number one). He told me work was just too busy. So, I cancelled the consult, and I let him know the above warning about where his priorities currently lie. I am unsure whether he will reschedule, and honestly, I cannot put in the energy to fret about it. I write this post, so that others similarly situated who are on the fence about whether they can focus their energy into caring about their own case may be forewarned.
The same government who is going to squeeze every last drop of work out of you until you’re in jail is the same government who is trying to lock you up.
Am I advocating to stop showing effort at work? Absolutely not. But there is a need to make a client’s case his priority. And not his “work.” Because there is a substantial risk that work won’t be there for him when his case is over, especially not if he makes his work his only priority. I get it – it’s a coping mechanism. But I will not put myself into a pit with worry and fret, carrying that client’s burden on my own – not when I have others who need me to be at my best.
So, am I capable of caring more about a client’s case? Sure. But will I? Nope. Not anymore. Others are counting on me. So, I’ll continue to show tough love for military justice.
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