The Outlying Counties
Nine rules for big-city criminal-defense lawyers practicing criminal defense law outside the big city:
Things are different. Don’t expect what works in Houston to work in La Grange. The local rules are different, and subject to change without notice.
Different is generally better. You’re not going to change things, so greet each new twist with joy.
People are nicer. You be nicer too.
Lawyers are something special. The smaller the town, and the farther from the nearest law school, the more important lawyers are (all of these rules apply with greater force the farther from the nearest city and the smaller the town).
The Peter Principle applies differently in a place with fewer lawyers — incompetent lawyers can rise to higher levels. Don’t assume that this means that any lawyer you’re dealing with is incapable of kicking your butt in court.
You are nothing special. Remember, these small-town lawyers grew up in the small town, went away to the same law school as you, and then moved back to the small town. You didn’t. The general practitioner with his office on the square is an honored member of the community; you, on the other hand, are nothing better than a “slick big-city lawyer who uses the rules to his advantage” (as one lawyer in the Piney Woods correctly described me to a judge).
You’re fishin’ in somebody else’s hole. The other criminal-defense lawyers in town are not the only ones who will resent this; the prosecutor, judge, bailiff, clerk, banker, and barber might as well. You never do know.
The prosecutor does know. She knows who among your potential jurors will resent your big-city presence, as well as many other things about the local culture with which you’re unfamiliar; she’s probably not going to tell you any of them. The other criminal-defense lawyers in town do too; they’re only a little more likely to tell you.
If you’re going to be trying the case, hire local counsel. This rule flows naturally from 1, 4, 6, 7, and 8 above.
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