“I’m in trial in federal court, and I need someone to cover for me in Harris and Galveston Counties on Friday.”
If you are a criminal-defense lawyer, at some point you will ask for cover. A lawyer other than the one on the case covers for the one who is by making a court appearance.
Cover doesn’t generally involve substantial lawyering, but rather just showing the flag, letting the judge and the client know that the case is not forgotten, and getting a new court date. In other words, it’s not complicated. In the grand scheme of things that we do as criminal-defense lawyers, cover is one of the hardest to screw up. I’m not going to send a Horrible Criminal Defense Lawyer into court to cover for me, but anyone with a modicum of diligence and competence should be able to provide cover without making the situation any worse.
By getting cover instead of just calling the court, the lawyer whose case it is can make the client’s life easier and less stressful. You might pay a young lawyer for her time to cover for you (because young lawyers have to eat or they’ll never grow up to be dinosaurs), but you probably wouldn’t pay an experienced lawyer for cover. Experienced lawyers cover for each other as a favor, because they know: if you are a criminal-defense lawyer, at some point you will ask for cover.
When I cover for another lawyer, that person’s cases are my first priority. I’ll show up at court extra early and introduce myself to the clients so that they knows they haven’t been forgotten; then I’ll get them on their way out of court as quickly as I can. Otherwise, the clients might start calling their lawyer’s office to find out what is going on. I don’t want that because I know that their lawyer is busy doing something else and doesn’t need progressively more irate calls from his clients.
So I was disappointed yesterday when I learned that the lawyer who agreed to cover a couple of cases for me in Harris County (I’m in trial in federal court) had moseyed into court sometime after 10:30 a.m. — an hour after the 9:30 docket call. My client had been a no-show, and his bond had been forfeited. If the lawyer had made cover a priority and arrived early he might have been able to get a second chance for the client. It turned out okay — young criminal-defense lawyer extraordinaire Sarah Wood, one of my former students from criminal trial advocacy class at the University of Houston Law Center, was able to salvage the situation this morning, but that shouldn’t have been necessary.
So give me cover please, but — please — do it well.