The Outlying Counties


Nine rules for big-city criminal-defense lawyers practicing criminal defense law outside the big city:

  1. 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.
  2. Different is generally better. You’re not going to change things, so greet each new twist with joy.
  3. People are nicer. You be nicer too.
  4. 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). 
  5. 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.
  6. 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).
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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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0 responses to “The Outlying Counties”

  1. Mark:
    That’s not necessarily true. you don’t always have to hire local counsel. Just remember some of the “locals” have also been burned by the DA and incompetent local attorneys. I’d say, just don’t try and convince them you’re smarter or faster than them, you’ll lose. Small towns move at their own pace and it ain’t Houston’s pace.

  2. Mark, I love to travel to courts outside of Harris County. After practicing in Houston, most of the other courts are a true joy. With the exception of some poor experiences in Bastrop and Williamson, which eventually worked out fine due to good ole Harris County inspired defense work, I have been repeatedly shocked by the courteous and profession demeanor most of the courts show us out of towners. On several occasions, after signing on to a case, I have actually received unsolicited copies of offense reports and complete discovery. However, I did try a case in Lockhart (talk about good barbeque) where the young ADA called me a “fancy Houston lawyer.” The jury wasn’t impressed and gave us more than what we could have hoped for at punishment. Overall, I have found the judges, prosecutors, court staff and, most importantly, jurors in small towns to be respectful and willing to hear both sides of the case, if you are courteous and listen to them. Now, if you walk in like a know-it-all smart ass, big city lawyer, you’re screwed!

  3. Funny you mention La Grange. District Court Judge Beck is the fairest judge I have ever been in front of. I tried an Agg Sex Assault in front of him and he absolutely called it down the middle.

    Every county is different. Some counties, local counsel is a nice tool! Other counties maybe not so necessary.

  4. I grew up in a small town and spent the entirety of my short career as a defense lawyer (trying cases) on the road, in (hostile) small towns. Once, I sat in with (excellent) local counsel for a trial. Jury selection was a revelation! Between the lawyer, the assistant, and the investigator, they new most of the jury panel. Of course! I started thinking about what it would be like picking juries in my hometown (something I still haven’t done). There’s no question the client got a better jury than he would’ve had with me picking the jury — there was so much to know beyond what you could possibly get from the jury selection discussion.

  5. It might be worth it to consider meeting with a local public defender (if the jurisdiction has such a system). At least in my office, we are always willing to meet with the big city lawyers or other out-of-town lawyers and introduce them to the judges and clerks, and to give them the lowdown on local rules and customs. Plus, we are never concerned about you taking our business.

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