Managing expectations

I remember reading about a once famous television soap-opera actor who played an unpleasant character in his show.  He complained that people couldn’t disassociate the actor from his character and little old ladies would routinely harangue him for his character’s antics.

In a modified form I suffer the same problem with people who cannot disassociate the television portrayal of the courts, lawyers and legal process from the reality.  This belief that the TV accurately portrays the Criminal Justice System gives people completely unrealistic expectations of what can reasonably be done for them.

One chap telephoned me recently sounding like he had just stepped out of da hood.  After providing no more information than that he had been charged with drink driving he demanded to know “how we gonna beat this thing?”  I assume he’s seen lawyers on TV fabricating defences for clients, although there are some lawyers in this country who do just that!

Another client appeared to have mistaken me for a member of the Mafia.  She requested (in loud shouty terms) that I ask the court to move the date of her court hearing as she was going abroad and didn’t want to attend court on the date she had been bailed to attend.  The court, outrageously in her opinion, decided to ask the prosecution if they objected to the move.  The CPS, in typical efficient public service mode, simply ignored the court’s question and didn’t respond.  As this took place the day before the hearing, the court refused to move the hearing date leaving me answering for why I hadn’t gone to a “friendly judge” who would do me a favour or found a QC who could see the judge at his club – I’m not sure what century she thinks lawyers live in, although since we still dress like we’re in the 18th century maybe that is the answer.  Earlier she had suggested going to the court herself to put personal pressure on the judge to get what she wanted.   I explained, as politely as possible, that we live in real-life UK, not an American TV cop show.  I’m not sure she was impressed by that but by that time I was starting to cease caring.

I also remember one lady who came into my office many years ago demanding to know in which prison her son was being held.  The facts that a) I do not work for the Prison Service; and b) did not represent her son meant literally nothing to this particular woman who seemed to think I had some hotline or psychic link to the Prison Service.

Don’t get me wrong, not all clients – not even most really - have unreasonable expectations.  Like most fans of soap-operas the majority of clients can tell the difference between reality and fiction, but the ones who can’t are certainly memorable.

That’s not to say that solicitors, barristers – in fact anybody who provides a service to the public – shouldn’t keep re-evaluating what is reasonable and what isn’t.  I always try to meet my clients’ expectations and there have been times when I’ve been asked to do something I’ve initially thought daft but on reflection is something that is quite a good idea.  Still the off-the-wall ones still make me laugh (and want to pull my hair out).


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