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luigirovatti's avatar

Is the following quote from "Sam Johnstone - 1 - Misjudged" by James Chandler about the consequences of being a lawyer in a murder case accurate?

Asked by luigirovatti (2163points) 2 months ago

The text is the following:

“Murder trials are incredibly expensive and time-consuming. So, you should potentially get a high fee. [...] But despite what you see on television, most people accused of murder are not particularly well-off. Most defendants are appointed public defenders. Those who aren’t are generally represented by firms that are well-off—you’ve got to have the resources to be able to independently investigate and test evidence. It’s the rare firm that can do so.

The other issue is time. Big trials are huge time-sucks, so once you take the case and get paid your fee—if you get paid—you’re stuck with the deal you struck. In the meanwhile, new clients and new problems arise. It’s s huge commitment.”

As a side-note, I made also a review of this book. If you’d like to read that, here:

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5 Answers

elbanditoroso's avatar

I am not a lawyer, but from everything I have read (non-fiction, real world), that is true.

JLoon's avatar

From my own experience I’d say that quote is fairly accurate, in terms of how courts and lawyers really operate in criminal cases.

But in civil suits too it all comes down to how much “justice” you can afford. OJ Simpson gets Johnny Cochran & Allan Dershowitz, Samuel Little gets a public defender.

Zaku's avatar

editing… confused James with Raymond Chandler

Anyway, it’s a perspective. I assume from one of the characters (the main one)? I assume it’s meant to show you that character’s perspective, and is probably a mix of what the author feels a lawyer would know/think, and what he wants his audience to know about this character’s perspectives.

Also, murder mysteries aren’t generally aiming to be strictly accurate, or typical.

luigirovatti's avatar

Sorry to reply this late, but, when I asked if this quote was accurate, the general impression I got was that there wasn’t any serious inconsistency. But now, I thought about that a bit, and now, here’re my impressions:


Most defendants are appointed public defenders. Those who aren’t are generally represented by firms that are well-off…” I mean, I notice a glaring inconsistency. The alternative is NOT just between public defenders and legal firms. There are private attorneys too.

Second Example:

Big trials are huge time-sucks, so once you take the case on and get paid your fee—if you get paid—that’s it.

First thing, I’ve never heard of a single trial who did not take place, even in a small city, because there wasn’t enough money. You don’t read about it in the newspaper, anyway. Second, the thing that the client doesn’t pay you, for me, it’s nonsense. Otherwise, how would you pay your investigators? By being part of a big firm? That’s ridiculous.

Zaku's avatar

First, as I wrote before, it’s a fictional character saying this, and so the author’s intent may be to show the character’s bias, rather than to accurately analyze the US legal system.

Second, real people often have persistent complaints and rants that they repeat over and over because they get some kind of emotional payoff from it, and these are often not telling the whole story. These quotes sound like someone on that kind of rant.

For example, if you let me rant about my experiences with, say, US Customs, I might give you a pretty unbalanced rant… based on my own experiences, and with a point, but not a balanced picture of the whole situation.

Now, looking at these latest examples:

In the first one, what’s the context – a particular type of trial, type of defendant, and/or location? He does use the word “generally”, which means it’s not strictly an inconsistency, but it may be an exaggeration. (As people who are ranting often do.)

In the second one, again I don’t know the context, but I can think of two cases where it might make some sense. Either 1) if he’s talking about taking on a case of someone who can’t afford a lawyer, I think it has been common practice for states to provide a fixed fee to provide someone a defense against a criminal case. And here he has a point, which is currently being worked on. Since you seem to be interested in actual US law situations, maybe see for example this article or other search results for “public defender fixed fee”. Another situation, as I think I understand it, is when someone does hire a lawyer themselves, but the fees get to be huge if a case drags on. I think in this case, there is a contract between lawyer and client, that may also involve a maximum fee for the lawyer, or even if there isn’t, a client may become unable to pay at some point, but I imagine lawyers are required to see the case to its conclusion anyway. In that case, I imagine a large firm would have worked its risks into its fees and contracts, and tend to do as little work as it morally could (or, as they thought was good for its own reputation) after that point.

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