Am I a “real lawyer” and what does that even mean?

In my practice of criminal law I often have clients ask me if I am a “real lawyer” or other similar questions that are aimed at determining whether or not I am a private lawyer or a public defender. These conversations usually happen in the hallways of the court, or in an actual courtroom by individuals who I do not represent. Clearly, if you’re sitting in my office you know I’m a private lawyer. I have a tremendous amount of respect for our public defenders, and often find myself defending the public defender’s office and its lawyers to clients who make disparaging remarks. I often do so by attempting to shift the focus that these prospective clients have on who they should be comparing someone like me to.

While comparison shopping is important, and when trying to make a decision between various options for counsel, it is certainly important to find out what each possible lawyer can and will do for you, but it’s also important to know who you are really up against. In conversations I have with clients and potential clients who attempt to compare me or other private lawyers to the public defender, I immediately correct them. The adversary in the equation of someone facing criminal charges in Maryland isn’t the public defender. At the point in which you’re looking into hiring counsel, it doesn’t matter any more how overworked the public defender’s office is, how new some of their lawyers might be, or anything like that.

The lawyer trying to put you in jail is in the State’s Attorney’s office.

The scenario I describe for these clients is somewhat simple. At the beginning of the day, on an imaginary morning two months from now, when your case is scheduled into trial, there are 2 stacks of files. There are the file’s on the prosecutor’s trial table, and the corresponding files on the defender’s table. Assume that on day one the public defender has all of those files. Eventually, and leading up to the trial date, private lawyers will be hired in lieu of the public defender. This practice makes the pile of files on the defender’s table decrease. This not only helps the accused who has opted for private counsel, but it also helps out the public defender and his or her clients who cannot afford private counsel. Less cases for the Public Defender creates more time to spend on each. What many of my clients lose sight of, and I work to refocus on, is the pile on the prosecutor’s table. This pile remains untouched. In Maryland there are no private prosecutors. No attorney like me or those in my office who will scoop up cases from the State and decrease their work load.

The advantage you get in hiring private counsel isn’t necessarily the comparison between us and the Public Defender. The real advantage is the fact that on an incredibly busy day, where I’ve worked with the court clerk to consolidate my dockets for efficiency, I will walk into court with 2 or 3 clients on a given docket. The prosecutor working for the State on that particular docket has my 2 or 3 cases, and likely has 15 or 20 more. In some jurisdictions as many as 60 cases in one docket!

Even on days in which I have worked with the clerk to consolidate some of my cases onto one docket, it is important to mention that the practice of consolidating dockets provides me more time in my office to work up, investigate, and research the cases that I do have.

Connecting the dots in your case

I often find myself driving significant results from putting the facts and law of my cases onto a platter for the State, in a way that benefits my client. If I have a case where the charging document is deficient for one reason or another, in which my client should “win” and otherwise get a great result, I work hard to bring this to the attention of the prosecutor as early as reasonable, and work out an agreement ahead of time. In most cases in which I successfully get the state to drop all charges against my client, I do so by painting a clear picture out of the puzzle that is most of these cases. I value the ability that I have to “do all the work” on a case for my client and at the same time for the State, when that work results in the case being dropped. My clients usually appreciate it, too!

Jobeth R. Bowers is the managing founder of Bowers Law, LLC, a Maryland Trial Practice focusing primarily on Maryland Criminal Defense matters and Automobile accident claims in Maryland. Offices are located in Elkton, Maryland and Baltimore City, Maryland. The office services clients throughout the state of Maryland in these matters as well as others.

 

Knowing what your accident case is worth

I wanted to discuss a variation on the common accident case value theme. This is, if you’ve been reading regularly, a fairly common theme with my posts as it is a common question that I get from my clients at many points throughout their claims. The main purpose of this particular post/article is to discuss the medical billing aspect of the process.

Myth: Many people are under the impression that your Maryland auto accident case is worth a multiplier of the total medical bills. That multiplier might be 2x or 3x or some 10x, but it’s a multiplier. This is entirely a myth. There is no hard and fast formula for determining the value of a Maryland auto accident case that fits nice and nearly into some variable type equation.

Each insurance company will use their own criteria to evaluate and make offers on cases, as will each judge or jury member weigh different aspects of testimony in determining a verdict, should a case go to trial and reach the verdict level.

The important thing to be aware of is whether or not the billing being submitted to the insurance carrier, judge or jury for consideration is the complete set of medical billing and/or records.

I receive a lot of litigation referrals from a number of law offices in Maryland. Sometimes, I also have clients who have fired a former attorney, or have had their case dropped, or for whatever reason have come to me after their case has been handled to some point by another lawyer or law office.

I recently took on one such case that was  handled by another firm, and for whatever reason the relationship between attorney and client broke down, and the client hired me. The entire file was forwarded to my office, and upon my review, I realized one major problem: A demand had been submitted to the insurance company, and was lacking no less than $6,000.00 in medical billing and the associated records to go along with that billing, and that’s just what I could determine in about 30 minutes of reviewing the file! Without a thought, the collection and submission of these bills would increase the previous offer by at least 20%. That’s a big number. That number is so big that it would almost offset the entire lawyer’s fees in the case!

The moral of the story is to be sure that a case being submitted to an insurance company, judge or jury for settlement is complete. This can be a daunting task for someone trying to handle a claim on their own, and clearly a difficult task for some that handle these cases professionally.

If you’re looking to have your case or an offer from an insurance company reviewed by someone with experience, contact me at (410) 885-6200. I will no review your settlement if you are represented by an attorney, as that wouldn’t be appropriate, but if you’re attempting to handle a claim on your own, I’ll gladly give you some of my time to take a look, and with no obligation discuss how I might be able to help you maximize the value of your claim.

Are you ready for 2015?

We’re approaching the time of year here very shortly where many of us will begin to talk of new year’s resolutions. Some of those resolutions will involve some sort of a gym membership that will likely be unused by spring, or just an overall goal of losing weight, eating better, or perhaps some other more tangible goal.

Within my office, one of the many things that I will do to prepare for the turning of the calendar year is to

a: buy a new calendar for 2015!

b: set goals for my office, largely based on performance and helping out clients

c: archive files and “close out” the 2014 year

On a personal level, however, I find it important to spend the early weeks of a new year analyzing my personal automobile insurance policies. If I can make any general suggestions above and beyond what you may already have on your list, it would be to review and adjust your insurance policy for the new year. The laws about insurance change regularly, and with them the premiums may also change. Getting re-quoted may not save you money, but it’s worth doing because if you cannot get a better deal, you can stick with what you’ve already got!

A few quick tips on your Maryland Insurance Policy will be to make sure your liability and uninsured motorist coverage are representative of your income and your assets, maximize your Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits, and verify that any other insurance coverages that you have like homeowners or renter’s insurance are “bundled” together if they are written by the same company. This bundling alone may save you as much as 15% on your policy, which can be a big savings.

I am always happy to talk to clients and potential clients about their insurance policies. I offer a free in-office insurance evaluation to anyone who calls (410) 885-6200 and requests one. The best part is, I’m not an insurance agent and I CAN NOT sell you insurance. This means I won’t even TRY to sell you insurance, but I can give you some pointers on what might be beneficial for you to update, should you potentially be in an auto accident. Give me a call, let’s sit down and make sure you’re protected and in a position to maximize your recovery, should you get in an accident in 2015.

Also, be on the lookout to the soon to be published new edition of my book regarding explanations and tips on buying Auto Insurance in Maryland, due out in January 2015!

When you defend one, you defend all.

This morning/afternoon I took part in an “exchange of dialogue” on twitter(conversation? Who knows what to call these things) about some of the stigma attached to being a criminal defense attorney. It was a good exchange, mostly involving fellow practitioners and especially a handful of defenders–so it wasn’t particularly adversarial to say the least. The dialogue, however, reminds me of a question that is always always asked of me and people who do or want to do what I plan to do: “How can you defend those people??” or other such statements, which call to question one’s ability and/or desire to represent the accused.

First of all, I’ve been involved in the legal profession for nearly a decade. There are not too many opportunities to defend someone in criminal court who has not been accused. Being accused is more often than not the first step in the process.

Next, I think that many people miss the point on what defenders do. Granted, I am drawing this conclusion based on why I am involved with and desire to practice criminal defense. Yes, desire to practice criminal defense. I made a point in the conversation that I think will become a very real, but soon to be very repeated statement regarding my choices and desires:

When you defend one(accused) you defend all(people).

To defenders, this is probably something that immediately makes sense. To the outsider, the non-believer, the one who believes in the presumption of guilt,  not so much. Think about it. Many of these cases boil down to the violation of someone’s constitutional rights. At least, that’s the cases you read about, typically with a headline that states “Charges dropped based on technicality”

Here’s the raw truth, that may help some shift the paradigm and begin to understand why I want to defend. You’ve got to start thinking of these charges from the perspective of accusing the absolutely innocent. Do not mistake this for some naive thought that everyone is innocent, I am not saying that. Assume the innocent person, you or your grandmother, driving down the street. Some pissed off road raged ape aggressively passes your hero, but that’s not enough. His adrenaline fueled rage is not satisfied with just passing–he decides for whatever reason to call the police, and report your hero’s vehicle for erratic driving. He states the location of the vehicle, and enough of a description of the vehicle and the erratic driving that the police decide to intervene. Our road raged miscreant gives enough of a description that the police decide to intervene.

Your hero is arrested.

Your hero is charged with suspicion of Driving Under the Influence.

Wait, what?

There was a recent Supreme Court Decision that allowed the police reasonable suspicion to stop/arrest for DUI based on the above set of “facts.”

I can’t make this up, The case is called Navarette v. California and it was ruled on in January 2014.

So what, you’re saying. The guy was probably guilty? My response to you is “so what” right back at you. If you care at all individually about whether or not Navarette was or was not guilty then you’ve missed the entire point. Because of this case, and how the Supreme Court ruled on it, the scenario I described above CAN and probably WILL happen to someone completely and one hundred percent innocent. If you’re looking at something to get upset about, now you should be upset.

Every single case influences and becomes persuasive toward other cases, at least within that local court system, or state jurisdiction. It all matters, no matter how big, no matter how small.

Defense attorneys are out there, in that moment, defending their client. You need to take a moment to realize how much bigger the picture really is. The moment a court rules that it’s ok for a bail bondsman to come barging into the door, hold suspects(not their bailees) at gunpoint, and call the police to come and arrest, the moment that anyone can barge into your house for any reason, then justify it by calling the police and claiming that there was contraband present. Don’t worry though, a colleague of mine and I did what we could to give the local newspaper another headline about that grand “technicality.

This isn’t a public service announcement. I’m not asking you to hug a defense attorney, or even call one and thank them–just think twice before spitting on our shoes.

and in just the blink of an eye….

The last time that I blogged was a week into the semester. I had begun my clinical course, and was thrown into the fire when an attorney called in sick. Time has flown by, and we are just a few weeks until the end of the semester. This semester has blown by. It literally seems like only yesterday that I handled my first case on the record, and now I’ve handled over a hundred.

No trials yet, which is somewhat disappointing, but somewhat expected given the court that i’m working in and the lack of “volume” of cases. A lot of counties in Maryland have courts with 30 or 40 cases on the morning or afternoon docket for each of 4 or 5 or sometimes more courtrooms. Baltimore City has 3 separate district court houses for criminal matters, and a completely separate 4th court for civil matters in the district court. In Cecil County the morning docket is about 20-30 cases total (for the state) in each of 2 courtrooms. This is a mix of criminal and serious traffic matters. In the afternoon, many times there is only one courtroom handling serious traffic and criminal, the other is either closed or handling speeding tickets and other payable traffic matters.

I have had a great experience, working with clients and preparing cases for the potential of trial. In doing so, I have learned that almost any case that is worth putting on trial for the defense, isn’t particularly good for the State. What I have learned without doubt, is that preparation on the defense side often pushes these cases into “worth dropping charges” as far as the State is concerned.

I have realized that the most important asset that a good attorney often has is preparation. Not that it took any time or effort to come to this conclusion, but seeing this in action is huge. Unlike the State’s Attorney, you actually have access to your client. You can meet with them, get at least their side of the story, and pick it apart from there. Often times the ASA only has a police report, limited access to the officer who filed the report (but didn’t witness the offense) and if there is any level of innocence on the part of your client, you have the advantage and ability to find it.

The semester has so far proven to be a great learning experience as far as client advocacy is concerned, and really gaining a comfort level in the courtroom.

I am not looking forward to it ending. While it’ll be another chapter closed, and another step closer to graduation and admission to the bar, it’ll be the bench mark to what should be one full calendar year of me not being in the courtroom on the record. This will be the sad part of the story.

Learning to represent clients

In professional responsibility we are learning how to represent clients. Its important to note that the reasonable thought of a client, as to whether or not you as an attorney, represent the client.

This is a somewhat straightforward seeming class, probably because I’ve spent a number of years in a law firm, adhering to and checking in on rules of professional responsibility.

Very black and white, no manipulation like in other classes, i.e contracts…