“I need a lawyer just to . . .”


“I’m looking for a lawyer just to . . .”

This is a bad-news call. “Just to” has one of three implications, none of which involve situations that you want to get into. Get off the phone as quickly as you can.

First, “just to” can mean “for only the following activities, which are a small part of  the complete representation that I need:”, as in “just to get bail set.” At best this “just-to” defendant is looking for piecemeal representation—a lawyer here to get bond set, a lawyer there to get the case reset—with no consideration of how to achieve the goals of representation, or even what those goals are. At worst, this defendant is trying to get someone on the hook for the entire case for one small fee. You are a lawyer, not a notary. Let them hire you to fight like hell and get the best possible result, or not at all.

Second, “just to” can mean “for the following assistance, which in my expert opinion is all that I need:”, as in “just to help me plead guilty and get probation.” This “just-to” defendant is, by definition, inexpert, and chances are excellent that competent and effective representation involves a lot more than just pleading him to probation. Let this defendant hire you for his “just-to” fee, and you’re shortly going to see that just pleading guilty is a horrible idea for him, and you’ll have to choose between (a) doing the job the right way for next-to-nothing, and (b) doing the job the wrong way. (If you would chose (b), please go away now and don’t return until you see the light. I’m sure there’s a V6 pretend-lawyering blog where you’ll be welcome.)

Third, “just to” can mean “for the following task, which in my expert opinion will be simple:”, as in “just to get my case dismissed.” The problem ought to be obvious—the client, once again inexpert, has no concept of how difficult the task will be. “I’m charged with aggravated sexual assault, but the complainant has recanted, and I just need a lawyer to get my case dismissed,” for example: that is a three-figure opinion about a six-figure case. The caller needs adult supervision.

In all of these cases, “just to” is a signal that the caller doesn’t take his case seriously, and is not looking for someone to take his case seriously. If he wanted to pay full fare for competent counsel to pull out all the stops, the words “just to” wouldn’t enter into the conversation. When you’re charged with a crime, “just” is not an adverb.

(The semantic analysis of potential clients’ words will continue; the code will be cracked.)


8 responses to ““I need a lawyer just to . . .””

  1. …or the always popular “just to get my court date reset”. Also phrased as “How much do you charge for a continuance?”

    Really?

    FYI, New Orleans has plenty of great criminal lawyers, but more than our fair share of “inexpert” (as you say) clients.

  2. “I just want to plead guilty” + “I have a limited budget” = long, complicated, expensive trial.

    Your post also reminds me of something my father used to say every time we went out for dinner: ‘I am just going to have the . . . What are you just going to have?”

  3. Too often potential clients see themselves as modern consumers instead of the latest in a long line of human beings that have become perilously entangled in a very old system. The modern consumer uses more information to pay less, which works for most things but it doesn’t work for what we do.

  4. LOL . . . I thought I was the only one who got these calls! It feels as though I have unwittingly placed an ad for this type of representation. I do, however, stop and explain to the “just to” inexpert that their case may not be as simple as they think and that there may be a number of pitfalls. Sometimes that brings them to reality (or drives them to another lawyer willing to accept $50 per reset, which works for me, too).

  5. Mark, you could continue this thread with a post on why “money is no problem” means money is the problem.

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