Forensic Files: Attorney

The last article focused on social services specifically. This one will focus on dealing with an attorney. The same would apply for any situation, not just social services.

The court room is quite a fascinating place to be in if you are a professional and know what you are doing. The first time I walked into family law court I faced a judge with a horrible reputation and I was sick for about an hour before I had to see her. While I was not the reason for being in that court room, social workers were frequently attacked by this person and I had heard horror stories. You weren’t allowed to wear certain colors in her room. She made inappropriate comments about herself and her history with abuse. She attacked social workers for their reports. Bracing myself for this type of attention, I was surprised to hear her compliment me on reflection of the case being presented. At another hearing, an attorney had to get brash with me in regards to a case. She was appearing for the parent, who was an idiot. I was quite surprised by the questions because it was quite evident that this person had been a social worker’s nightmare. Outside the court room she came up to me and said “Don’t take any of that stuff seriously in there. We are just doing our job and it isn’t personal.” I ended up liking this woman. Between the interaction with the judge and this attorney I learned several things. If you are a competent social worker, communicate with the attorneys ahead of time, let them know what you are planning in your report and what you will be requesting, you will gain their respect. I also made sure I never left any stone unturned in my reports. There was an answer for everything so that there were never any questions in the court room. As a result I learned to love the court and gain high praise for writing some of the best reports. In that room, I was seen as one of the better social workers. I generally got what I wanted for my families. This is because we all worked together as respected professionals.

The same can occur with families facing attorneys. You have to be respectful to the attorney first and follow their advice. If you don’t like it, get another one. If you are paying for their services, you are their employer. However, you still have to respect them. It is not advisable to go in with an attitude and expect them to win the case for you. Even with public defenders you can request a different attorney. In California it required facing the judge (I don’t recall the actual summons you have to submit) and no one was allowed in the room but your attorney, you, the judge and the stenographer.

At the same time I have seen some really ridiculous scenes in the court room by families. Parents coming in dressed like they are about to walk the streets. Parents who are obviously on drugs. Parents getting angry and having security walk them out of the room. I am not quite sure what they were thinking when they appeared that day or why they would assume they would garner respect in a courtroom for acting like a fool. Interestingly enough, what I rarely saw was someone in tears knowing they have lost thier child to the courts. Mostly I saw anger, drugs, alcohol and people who were incarcerated.

If you need to appear before a judge on behalf of your children – or for any reason, you need to dress like a professional. You don’t come in dressed like a rapper or gang member when you have law enforcement in the room. You also don’t dress like a prostitute or a woman about to get laid. These are people who are making very important decisions about your life and your family. The room is high with suspicion about every parent who walks through the door. Even if they are representing you, there is an element of distrust. They will do their job but will wonder.  When I used to see my kids at juvenile hall, they were extra extra kind to me and gave me a song about how they were ready to turn their life around. I knew it was bull shit and I told them to cut the crap. At the same time they weren’t interested in doing their school work, were trying to figure out how to smuggle in drugs and were sizing up the gangs in the cell block.

So when you come into the court room, you have to understand that they have heard it all and it is hard to see the truth even if you are not guilty. This is why you must have an attorney and a good one. It is also why you need to focus on how you represent yourself in the court room. You aren’t facing the head of the Crips but the head of a legal system. Acting tough and cool makes you look guilty. Putting on a pimped up show and looking like you have a line of girls under you, doesn’t go over well either. If you aren’t sure how to behave off the streets, ask your attorney.

Respect goes a long way. Watch the video “To Sir, With Love,” with Sidney Poitier. It has a lot to teach.

When parents show up looking like decent people and behaving in this manner, they are taken more seriously. It doesn’t mean you will get what you want – if you are guilty, but at least you have made an attempt to respect the room. You might not be treated quite as severely as you normally would have been.

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