Some Musings on Visiting Incarcerated Clients

Over the holidays, I have taken the time to reflect on the direction of my practice and this blog. I’d like to address a few things in the coming year. First of all, the paucity of posts from 2012 is something I would not like to repeat in the coming year. I’ve taken the time to discover some new blogs I really like and to rediscover some I’ve learned from in the past. My new favorite blog is Philip Greenspun’s Weblog. Mr. Greenspun promises “A posting every day; in interesting idea every three months.” He actually succeeds in posting an interesting idea more than every three months even if he doesn’t post every day. I read his posting for several hours. He seems like a very interesting person; and I feel emboldened to write some posts that are technically off topic this year. I’ve also thought about branching out into some serious non-legal writing (non-legal as in not relating directly to the law not in the sense of illegal material) and have begun following a few blogs of literary agents. Though they seem to paint a bleak picture of publishing. Sometimes I do posts here and immediately hear the sounds of crickets chirping. But I don’t know that I’ve been posting enough to hear much else. I have some resolutions for 2013, most of which I don’t intend to announce here because I’d actually like to achieve some of them.

Also, I received a note of congratulations from a lawyer in one of the bigger Atlanta firms for making Georgia Trend’s 2012 “legal elite.” I did not know that I had made this list or that there even was such a thing. I’ve been dubious of such things since I made Who’s Who in high school and learned that this list exists so that the people who are on the list can purchase plaques from the people who produce it. But, if you’re a potential client, and you’re into that sort of thing, here’s a link. if my being a legal elite helps you to decide to hire me, I’ll take a portion of your fee and buy a plaque (I won’t raise your fee to pay for it either.).

The other thing I did over the holidays was watch The Lincoln Lawyer again. I noticed something in this viewing that only a criminal appellate lawyer would notice. This movie begins with Mickey Haller, played by Mathew McConaughey, going into and out of gritty courthouses and jail holding cells to visit his trial-level clients. He drops in on about 5 of these folks in the first 10 minutes of the film. But when he goes to see his client, who is in the post-conviction stage of his case, he has to get on an airplane to reach that facility. And his post-conviction client is the one who spits at him during the visit. For all of the stuff in the movie that is not true, the producers were able to get a good bit of this part right.

Post-conviction clients are far away from their lawyers (turns out that California has its own version of South Georgia, I suppose. But at least you can fly to those facilities. To fly to them in Georgia would require boarding a crop duster).

My wife and I watched season two of Downton Abbey, too. The part I found strikingly similar to appellate practice was the means of communication and the way it adds drama to the plot. The characters write letters to each other, and the letters take a while to deliver; the means of communication leads to some miscommunication. Such is the life of the Appellant and his lawyer. With these ideas in mind, I thought it appropriate to pose a few thoughts on successful client visits to prisons.

  • Have an agenda or some other agreed-upon list of points for discussion. I’m not a big fan of free-form meetings. And it’s particularly important that your visit have a purpose. If it’s to brainstorm with the client, make that agreement going in. If it’s an editing session, make sure to send the brief down in advance. Try to set the meeting a few weeks in advance and agree upon discussion points.
  • Set the meeting up with the prison well and advance. You generally have to do this in writing, and they usually want you to fax down photo id and a bar card.
  • If you are bringing anything or anyone with you other than a legal pad, you will need to get that approved in advance. This includes a laptop, iPad, files, an assistant, an investigator, or an intern. Don’t set yourself up for surprises at the door of the facility.
  • Set your arrival time at least thirty minutes ahead of when you plan to meet with your client. If you plan to meet the client at 10:00, and you show up at 10:00, you likely won’t clear security and get seated with the client until 10:45 or 11:00. Arrive at 9:15-9:30.
  • Try not to set a visit that overlaps with a “count.” I’m not sure what a count is, but they often interrupt or end your interview earlier than you anticipated.
  • Be exceptionally polite from the moment you walk in the door until the time you leave even if the staff is being less than exceptionally polite. You will find that the staff can’t do much to you, but there is a lot they can do to your client after you leave. And you’ll find that a “kind voice turneth away wrath.”

Those are my pointers for prison visits. I plan on doing a lot more of these in the coming year, and I’m hoping to see you here at this blog more often in 2013 than in 2012.

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