It’s a common observation among lawyers that civil practice is much less civil than criminal practice. I was listening to AM radio and I heard a lawyer (specializing in HOA disputes) describe himself as “psychotically aggressive”. You don’t see that very often on the criminal side. Virtually all criminal cases are prosecuted by Deputy District Attorneys, and are defended by public employees as well. The defense bar is overwhelming represented by the public defender, the alternate public defender, and the alternate alternate public defender, which in California is call the bar panel. Private attorneys are extremely rare. Generally, a criminal lawyers try cases against people they know pretty well, and that they will have to work with again in the future. That makes the kind of scorched-earth tactics you might see in an HOA dispute less effective. But there’s another reason – an overlooked reason – that the criminal side is more collegial. And that’s the waiting.
There are some days where half of my time is spent sitting around waiting for things to happen in court. This morning, for example, I had three appearances on three different cases in three different courtrooms. There were six different defense attorneys that I was waiting for. It took almost two hours to get all of the right people in the right courtrooms at the right time. Often times, I’ll find the right lawyer in the right courtroom but he hasn’t spoken to his client yet. Or, the client hasn’t been brought to court by the sheriffs. For the client refuses to come to court, and has to be forced to be extracted. Sometimes, I’ll find one lawyer you need to defended case, but not the other.
I try to work while I’m waiting for my cases to be called. I’ll bring my laptop with me. But the backwards state of our office’s record-keeping prevents me from being productive. Specifically, each of my cases has its own physical folder. This folder is kept in a cabinet in my office. In order to read what’s in the file, I have to have the file. But, I can’t carry around my filing cabinet with me. So unless I know what I need to be doing, and unless I have that specific file, I can only work on projects that require just a laptop. But there aren’t many projects like that, unfortunately.
This problem is particularly frustrating when they judge wants to handle your matter quickly. Judges become frustrated when a lawyer wasn’t in court when the judge thought the lawyer should be. Each judge asks, why didn’t you come to her court first. They get extra riled up when they are in trial and have to squeeze their calendar in to a shorter portion of the day.
What happens during all of this waiting? What happens when you have several lawyers – verbal, social, type A lawyers, sitting around with with nothing to do? Lots and lots of talking, joking, bullshit, and war stories. You get to know people. You have a laugh. It’s a shame that the taxpayer is footing the bill. But it does make the practice that much more enjoyable.