The Old School Way
A former basketball player has come and gone from the nearby office. Once a tough kid living in unforgiving circumstances, he was shown an alternative way, one that doesn’t end in prison or death. The visitor is just one of many that drop by weekly to say hello, seek advice, or give thanks to the person responsible for saving their life. Inside the office, the décor mirrors the resident, the result of removing an Italian from New York into the heart of the South fifty years ago. If the main course is spaghetti, the dessert is apple pie. Nearly forty-five years of devotion to criminal law spill over the edge of the Texas-sized desk in the form of statutes, files, and ineligible yellow legal pads.
With each blog deadline approaching, I walk next door and ask,
“Want to write a blog this month?”
I know the answer. He has much to tell, but the old school in him won’t allow it.
“I don’t blog.”
Since joining his practice nine years ago, I have been fortunate to soak up seven years experience as an Assistant District Attorney during the Johnny Holmes era. I can smell the cigar smoke on Judge Jimmy Duncan’s breath as he denies another objection. I can hear the former client’s voice seeking advice on entering witness protection. The lawyer had acquitted him of one murder; the government was willing to pardon him of fifteen. I can feel the emotional argument in front of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Yes, I am fortuitous to share offices with someone who constantly reminds me “he has forgotten more than I know.”
True to his word Sam Adamo (Sr.) has not blogged, nor do I expect a blog anytime soon. However, if you were a young (or older) attorney seeking advice, here are some things he would tell you.
I. “You can’t lose a client you never had.”
I remember one of the first cases I brought in. A consultation was scheduled, and the potential client was on his way. The contract was as good as signed. Toward the end of the meeting, the potential client said, “I plan on retaining your firm, but am meeting with two other attorneys. I’ll call you later tonight.” That call never came. The next day, I slammed open his office door, “Can you believe I lost that client.” Staring down at the Texas Penal Code he said, “You can’t lose a client, you never had.”
II. “That’s the Old School Way.”
We had just finished a two-week trial on an accusation carrying a punishment range of twenty-five to life. The jury acquitted our client, found him guilty of a lesser-included offense and assessed the minimum. For any criminal defense attorney, this was a victory, but our client’s family was still reeling from the one-word verdict. Standing in the elevator, another old-school attorney entered. He watched a portion of the trial and was no stranger to defending citizens accused of serious crimes. Unprovoked, he looked to the family and said, “Now that is why you hire those guys.” Sr. looked at me and said, “that’s the old-school way.”
Before social media and the Law Hawk. Before Google and Lexis Nexus, there were lawyers on the ground, front and center, paving the road for the next generation. Influential groups like the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association didn’t exist, and when they eventually formed carried little weight with government officials.
Whatever your niche is criminal, family, civil, there is another lawyer available at the click of a mouse. You will have consultations where the potential client has met or will meet with other attorneys. You will also field phone calls from potential clients looking for new representation. In short, there will be opportunities to voice your opinion about other attorneys. Keep it positive and keep it brief. Focus on what you can do, as opposed to what you feel the other lawyer cannot. The “other lawyer” has likely done more for you than you will ever know. “That’s the old-school way.”
III. “You can’t buy trust.”
Trust takes seconds to break and forever to repair. Be honest with judges and honest with district attorneys. It isn’t necessary to reveal all your cards but don’t tell the district attorney the sky is green when the dash-cam shows it is blue. Doing so will damage your credibility, hurt your case, and harm future cases.
Earn your client’s trust by communicating (and getting results). Tell them email is the best way to reach you (it typically is). Not only does email provide an effective means of communication, but also serves as useful evidence should the need arise. Gain your client’s trust by understanding their overall goal. You can’t provide a solution if you don’t know the problem.
Bonus: “Find one thing.”
People are different. Some we get along with better than others. In your practice, you have come across (or will come across) a client you have difficulty tolerating. When that happens, you need to find one thing you like about them and hold on to it. At trial, that “thing” will act as your guide while delivering a genuine message to the jury.
IV. “Win as if you’re used to it.”
If you have ever watched a sporting event, it is clear when the winner doesn’t win much. As a criminal defense lawyer, it is easy to get lost in fighting for the underdog. You’ve taken on the system, won, and now want to let the world know. No problem there, but do so with class. The district attorney you just humiliated on social media will be handling another one of your client’s cases shortly.
V. “Trust yourself.”
Watch other attorneys in trial. Go to CLEs. Pour over court transcripts. Ask questions. Learn. Get involved. Investigate. Over prepare, be confident, trust your instincts and above all trust yourself.
With many outstanding lawyers in Houston, this list will grow. Add on.