Thursday, January 08, 2004

Criminal Law is so much better than Civil Law.

Just about all of the bad reputuation that lawyers have comes as a result of civil lawyers. You see, there are so many lawyers out there that there is a great degree of anonymity in the practice of law. There is only a small chance that, unless you have a specialized area of practice or a certain type of repeating case, that you will have many cases with the same lawyer. Also, so few civil lawyers spend much time in court, and their cases get so little time and attention in court, that they rarely have to go and explain their actions to a judge in open court. The result of this anonymity, and lack of open vetting of their actions, means that civil lawyers have a far greater ability to be, well, uncivil, to eachother in their practice of law. They communicate by letter and fax, or phone, but rarely in person. As a result, they are frequently jerks. Their letters are frequently venemous, the phone calls are worse, and most letters are merely an attempt to recast the previous phone conversations in favorable manner to the letter writer. The end of every letter usually has some kind of statement like "if you disagree with this, I will expect a written disagreement within the next XXX days." Thus, they keep fighting back and forth over increasingly meaningless things.

This contrasts dramatically with the practice of Criminal law. I work in a very large city, one of the country's most populous, nad handle a large amount of cases. That being said, there are probably only about 4,000 lawyers who practice with any degree of regularlity in my area. When you start to break it down, there are even less, because many of them appear only infrequently in court. Many also do not work on felonies, which would be just about the only type of lawyer I deal with. As a result, in any particular courthouse, if you work there for more than a couple of weeks, everyone will know you. Go to another courthouse, and people will get to know you there as well.

But, guess what, they already will know you. This is because the DAs, Public Defenders, court staff, and Judges all have worked in other parts of the county, and they know people from other locations. So, if lawyer X comes into a court and starts causing a ruckus, it will quickly get around that courthouse. Some enterprising soul will quickly call to where that lawyer was last seen (not hard to figure out), and find out more about the person. Soon, people will know not only what kind of stuff that lawyer is known for pulling, but also the fact that his wife left him because he was bad in bed, and that he picks his nose, and that he really can't try a case if his life depended on it. You get my point, there is a far greater incentive to get along.

The Judges tend to know you as well. If you are always jumping up and down screaming the sky is falling, it gets around, and they tend to listen to you less. If you have a good reputation as one who fights hard, but more importantly, is courteous, polite, a good personality, intelligent and reasonable, you will be listened to far more. DAs will respect you when you make representations, and Judges will take you at your word without you having to confirm everything in writing.

The upshot of this is that things are done far more informally in criminal courts than in civil courts. You don't have to write confirming letters, and you almost never ask for santions, or do things of that sort. The stuff comes back to get you. Discovery tends to be resolved easily and informally, so that you don't spend your whole life writing motions to compel. Do we fight? You betcha, but we do it in what I think is the proper forum, Court, in front of a judge and, preferably, a jury.

This is one of the reasons that the practice of criminal law is so much more enjoyable than civil law. This is why, when people ask me "why don't you go private?" I am always skeptical. Sure, private criminal is fine, but then I'd have to do that icky civil stuff, and fight over who broke my pencil at the last deposition, and the fact that lawyer X kicked me under the table durnig a settlement conference, and since he didn't deny it in a letter he responded to my response to his response to my allegation, he must have admitted it. Ugh. Keep me fighting for people's lives rather than their money.

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