This week’s blog comes from Edmund Conybeare, on the three questions he gets asked over and over again…
As a self-employed defence lawyer, I get asked three questions:
- You are self-employed. Isn’t it tempting to just sit around all day watching daytime TV in your pyjamas?
- How do you defend people you know are guilty, or have done terrible things?
- What is your approach to clients?
The answers to these are linked but here goes:
Yes, my time is my own, subject to my commitments to Legal Studio, court hearings and client appointments.
But, if I don’t work I don’t earn any money, and with a wife and three growing girls to keep, such a course wouldn’t be very helpful.
However, it’s not just about the need to make money. I went into the law because I found it interesting, I wanted to make a difference, and I wanted to be the best for my clients. A lot of the time I actually enjoy what I do. I love helping my clients, many of whom find themselves in real difficulty, and hopefully winning their cases. Plus, being self-employed means that I am more flexible in the way I work and can better adapt to my clients’ needs.
This is the old dinner party chestnut, but is of real continuing interest to people I speak to.
If a client tells me they have committed the offence, I cannot then run a not guilty plea at trial unless they think they have committed the offence, when in law they haven’t, and I advise them of this.
For example, just because a client admits hitting someone, it doesn’t mean they are necessarily guilty of assault, they may have acted in self-defence. However, I am what is called an officer of the court, and cannot mislead it.
Even if I do not necessarily believe my client’s account, I am still free to pursue the defence they advance. At times, I have been sceptical but the evidence has shown my client to be entirely truthful. The court is the arbiter of truth, not me. A lot of the time I am dealing with cases where the offence is admitted and I am mitigating to obtain a lesser sentence.
Everyone is entitled to a defence. However serious the allegation, however unpleasant, however vilified by society a defendant may be, the rule of law demands that a person or company receive a proper defence.
Consequently, I always turn this question round: what if you were accused of something vile, like sexually assaulting a child, wouldn’t you expect no stone to be unturned in your defence, with the looming threat of prison, personal disgrace and lifetime pariah status? I never flinch from defending the unpleasant, indeed often the stakes are higher and my role becomes even more important.
Firstly, and it may seem trivial, but with a name like Conybeare which frequently gets mispronounced, I ensure I get my client’s name right. It really matters to me, and is a basic courtesy.
Secondly, I always put the person or company I am representing first, not what they are alleged to have done. I like and respect the vast majority of my clients and I want to establish rapport at an early stage.
Occasionally I don’t establish a good relationship and I have on one occasion told a client that we are not getting on and they should seek alternative representation. The client lawyer relationship in defence cases can become fraught and stressed and cannot start on a bad footing.
Finally, and this is the cornerstone of my ethos, I believe at the start that my clients are entirely innocent of whatever allegation they face. Sure, they may admit they have done it, or the evidence may be overwhelming, but innocence is always the starting point and I work from there. It means I am starting with the basic tenet of our criminal justice system, the presumption of innocence, and respects my client’s position.
The day I don’t start with innocence is the day I seek an alternative career. It follows from that basic foundation that I will pursue every avenue and line of defence I can within the rules of my profession and the resources I have at my disposal.
That is my guarantee to every client that walks through my door and instructs me. I am always humbled and honoured that a client believes in me to obtain the best result, and I aim to repay that faith in full.