Andrew DeLuca’s Delusion

Here’s baby lawyer Andrew DeLuca’s pitch:

It is these peo­ple that have grown tired of your eso­teric legal posts, that we as attor­neys rep­re­sent. How do you represent someone effectively when you can not connect with them? The type of perspective that is only learned by life experience or lifetimes of experience and allows us to connect with our clients fears, their hopes and their outlook on life that has been shaped by the influences and opportunities, or lack thereof, that they had growing up in much different place than you or Leo. It is my humble opinion, in the practice of criminal law or law for that matter, that it is essential to understand your client. It is only through this understanding that we will be able to effectively connect with our audience in order to advocate on our clients behalf.

It is essential to understand your client; without understanding your client you cannot tell your client’s story. There is nothing in this that is new or controversial. Lawyers have been seeking to understand their clients better to better tell their stories for as long as there have been lawyers. You don’t start approaching controversial until you tell lawyers that they should seek to empathize with everyone.

But DeLuca states the glaringly obvious as “humble opinion,” and implies* that “understanding” differentiates him from, well, guys like me. On his website he tells potential clients, “Choose a progressive law firm,[sic] that takes a fresh, unique approach to your legal needs.”

I’m glad he’s not claiming to be “aggressive” or “experienced,” but it’s interesting that DeLuca seems* to think that “understand your client” is a “fresh, unique approach” that distinguishes him from us hidebound reactionaries. 

DeLuca’s got no idea how I relate to my clients (though if he’d bothered, he might have gleaned some information—I’ve been writing about empathy in the practice of law since he was a 1L), but there’s a deeper, more systemic problem, with his attitude. 

Allow me to illustrate.


10mm Craftsman Combination Wrench

is a standard-pattern 10mm wrench, about five and a quarter inches long. (A fully-polished wrench is typically a little shorter than a rough wrench like the Craftsman Industrial pictured.) There is a reason for all of this. Nobody arbitrarily picked 5.125in ±0.125in as the standard length of a 10mm combination wrench.

Say I’m a new “progressive” motorcycle mechanic. I’ve never tightened an M6 fastener on a real motorcycle before (I worked on some mock motorcycles in mechanic school, and wowed my teachers), and I’ve certainly never contemplated the reason a 10mm standard-pattern wrench is as long as it is, but I know that I know better than the older guys. So instead of buying a standard-pattern wrench like they all have in their tool boxes I buy a long-pattern 10mm wrench—if five inches is good, seven must be better—and use it to tighten every M6 fastener I find on a customer’s motorcycle.

I somehow snap the heads off of a couple of bolts. Hmm. There must have been something wrong with those bolts. I drill out their remnants from the customer’s bike, and try again, with the same results—more bad hardware! And again. Finally I start to suspect that maybe it’s not the hardware. Maybe I am overtorqueing because the wrench is too long.

But because, again, I know better than those old guys, I’m not going to use a reactionary five-and-a-quarter-inch-long wrench. This is a new age, and a bright hardworking young guy can make his own rules. I go back to the pawn shop and buy a short-pattern wrench (after all, it fits in tighter spaces, which is good), which I use to tighten up the replacement bolts. Everything seems to go great. My customer picks up his bike, and six months later dies in a crash when his front master cylinder comes loose because I undertorqued the bolts holding it.

The moral of the story? Use a torque wrench. If you don’t have a torque wrench or years of experience, stick with the standard pattern. It has evolved to its current form for a reason. The 10mm standard-pattern combination wrench is about five and a quarter inches long so that an ordinary mechanic, not wearing gloves, can apply the proper amount of torque, but not more, with ease. Fully polished wrenches, with their gently curved edges, have to be a little shorter because they are more comfortable to apply more pressure to.

The standard pattern is the standard pattern because it makes it harder to screw things up.

DeLuca has delusions of a new way of doing things; that delusion is what he’s selling to potential clients. Maybe they’re sold on it (though they’re not all staying sold). But he has no idea what the standard pattern is, nor—more importantly—why. He wants to improvise, but he doesn’t yet have technique to burn, and he doesn’t know he needs it.

DeLuca doesn’t even realize that empathy in the practice of law is not a new idea. Because he doesn’t know that, he misses out on all of the work that those who came before him did in finding better ways to connect with clients.


* DeLuca has a musteline way of never saying anything that he can’t disclaim; it’s all very passive-aggressive.

10 responses to “Andrew DeLuca’s Delusion”

  1. What happened to "Until then, I’ll be fol­low­ing Rule One."? And what about Rules Five, Six, Seven and Nine?

  2. As one who has achieved a modest degree of success in three different fields throughout my professional life, I feel qualifed to offer something up on the experience argument. Experienced people are able to take intelligent shortcuts and to develop novel approaches. Lazy newcomers see these tactics that successful experienced people deploy and try and copy them right out of the gate. It's like grammar — know the rules before you break them. Good writers do not adhere strictly to Strunk & White, although they almost surely know what is in that volume. And if you aren't sure, it is probably best to go with the traditional approach.

    The studies on creativity show that it springs from thorough mastery of the fundamentals, hard work, and passion for the subject.

    There are few instances in human history where someone just stormed into a field and quickly developed a breakthrough without a thorough grounding in the subject. Those people obviously had rare intellectual gifts and should not serve as role models for the rest of us.

    "Experience" can be gained in different ways, though. My own experience is that I became competent in three different fields quickly by reading every book and article I could get my hands on. I'm talking hours per day just reading and taking notes and organizing and mentally developing approaches that I felt would work best for me.

    By voluminous reading, one is essentially profiting from known successful people's experiences. The time for mastery of a field is therefore reduced dramatically. At that point one can venture into the realm of true creativity and, who knows, perhaps even make a modest breakthrough.

    • A great number of mistakes can surely be avoided by reading books and articles, but the heart of an art—and trial lawyering is unmistakably an art—cannot be so learned.

      Besides, most trial lawyers aren't writing about trial lawyering (they ask me, "how do you have time to write that blog?"). So the state of the art is not necessarily recorded in writing. Sure there are exceptions—Terry MacCarthy's book on cross-examination, for example, and parts of this blog—but our subject has already shown an unwillingness to accept advice that challenges his self-esteem. And good teaching'll do that.

  3. It was the great Marc Randazza who gave me some of the best advice ever when handling stuff in a federal court… it was along these lines:

    "As a young lawyer, first you have to learn the playbook and fundamentals inside and out. I know they aren't the most fun plays to run, but you have to know how to run the ball right up the middle for a five yard gain, or throw a quick slant pass to the tight end for a first down. And you have to know how to do that really, really really, and the only way to do that is by doing it so many times that you have it down to perfection. Then, once you have mastered the fundamentals, and have them all down pat, only then can you throw the fucking playbook out the window from time to time and run something crazy like the flea flicker. But my point is you need to master the fundamentals before you can try the crazy stuff."

    I'm sure Marc said it a lot better than I'm relaying it, but I always think about that before I want to do something crazy or "innovative."

    And to make another football analogy, some teams like the Ravens, the Steelers, and the Patriots are so good at fundamental football that they don't need anything too "innovative" to win a lot of football games. My biggest criticism of my team, the Philadelphia Eagles, is we tried to be too cute every year while making mistakes on stuff like blocking and tackling. 

  4. New lawyers should be encouraged to think outside the box. However, I agree that you have to know the box to think outside of it. I also agree that new lawyers are foolish to think they are the first lawyers to ever understand the concept of empathy. True Blue Defense Lawyers, like my friend Mark, don’t take kindly to being talked down to.

    Robb Fickman

  5. There are lawyers who make no effort to relate to their clients, who choose to believe they are guilty from the get-go. That's how the Norfolk Four ended up wrongly convicted in Virginia, and Ed Elmore in South Carolina. Empathy is nice, if it's real, if it's natural, but a full understanding of all the facts, doing the best you can for your client, linking correctly to relevant law will work just as well. Empathy is not enough. Dedicated labor is required.

    I just finished reading "Anatomy of Injustice," Raymond Bonner's book on the travesty of the Ed Elmore trials. One lawyer who fought for Elmore for 15 years after he was sentenced to death did not meet with him, did not know he was mentally retarded until nearly the end of the ordeal. This lawyer was angry at the injustice and he did not need empathy to do his darnedest.


  6. Finally, at long last, after much lamentation, someone has understood the difference between the "criminal-defense lawyer" and the "criminal defense lawyer." Only the latter can truly connect with their clients.

  7. I hate to say it b/c I like your blog, but your argument here could be better. I have met many attorneys who have been well educated in doing things poorly for many years; your “ex parte” post makes this point in general. An appeal to common wisdom quite a bit of the time is like being a lemming, which, unless I am mistaken, is what we are paid not to do. Unlike the majority of people, we read the laws, cases, and 2ndary texts. We think about this material according to the facts presented, not the ordinary facts. We apply the law and logic so that it works rather than just sits there. We tell a story. To be attorneys we must innovate or we just become the chorus. So look at the argument. To say it isn’t a new approach because of the concept isn’t very powerful. I would think it is because of the execution, but that is pure speculation. The reason that similar people press the point so much is basic advertising and marketplace problems – the attorneys in this field tend not to differentiate themselves in meaningful ways to potential clients and therefore you have a push to center on small differences. I assume this is also the cause of your passionate response irrespective of your experience. Moreover, your wrench analogy somewhat makes my point – a good engineer would precisely measure the amount of torque (or exact methods they could justify) rather than relying on what an ordinary person (which exists only in courts and the imagination) would do with an ordinary wrench (or fudging it methods that rely on other people’s authority and assumptions, not logic). Similarly good engineers would actually set the torque wrench correctly and calibrate it for the actual use each and every time. In real life, this doesn’t happen b/c mechanics have the tendency to follow other mechanics and just use what the older experienced guys use – badly calibrated impact wrenches. This is why my and yours tires are continuously overtorqued making it so people can’t change their own tire and leading to stress on the bolts. Compare this with . My point is don’t accept arguments b/c of authority if you have access to the underlying logic and facts and you yourself can think unless there is an overriding concern (like not having facts, having logic, being able to think, or the social mores disallows argument).

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