Can I Talk to Dr. Defense Attorney… I Mean Mr. Defense Attorney

Sara Lucas Nov. 21, 2022

This is an amazingly common Freudian slip we hear when answering the phone.  But maybe it isn’t so crazy after all.  There are a lot of similarities between consulting a doctor and an attorney.  Both are top-tier professionals who are sometimes revered as saviors and sometimes reviled as more expensive than they are worth.  And both are often at the center of a tough time in the lives of patients or clients.  Maybe most importantly, doctors and attorneys end up at the center of complicated situations wishing they had more power to guarantee good results.

The degree of anxiety and uncertainty that accompanies criminal charges tempts people to look for any scrap of information they can get, which is probably why you are reading this right now.  Scouring the internet for answers to every question we have in life is natural these days.  In the same vein, comparing your case to that of a friend or someone in the news is second nature.  Here we see another corollary between legal and medical situations – if you tell someone of a health problem you are having be prepared for a list of remedies that worked for their best friend’s mother’s favorite grocery clerk (even if you have already been trying that for years). But it is important to keep in mind that every case is different and the smallest details can change the possible outcomes.  Officer conduct, a phrase uttered at the moment of contact, a couple of past crimes, the jurisdiction, or even the DDA assigned to your case – any one of these things, and more, could affect the result by changing everything from what evidence is admissible to what sentence is probable.  Just like doctors warn against self-diagnosis via the internet, lawyers know that talking to an attorney is essential for forming a plan of attack and getting an initial idea of how your case might turn out.

Another similarity between the two, at least for me, is that at the doctor’s office I always forget to ask all the questions I have…  Whether this is because of situational nervousness, the general feeling that the doctor is the boss (expert) and should be driving the conversation, or some sort of specialized question-blocking forcefield emanating from the building, the result is the same – five minutes into the drive home I have a “Doh” moment when my questions suddenly come rushing back to me.  Luckily, these days most of us carry a computer around in our pockets and I have finally learned to make a list of questions for myself.  Likewise, you should come to your attorney appointment with a list of questions and your favorite way to make notes about the answers.  You can even ask your lawyer or the assistant you check in with for a pad and paper – I guarantee they will be impressed that you want to take notes and it may even help open the question-asking floodgates.

Science is important for both professions as well.  While this is obvious when it comes to medicine, the legal field relies on a vast array of social and hard sciences.  Like a general practitioner handing out referrals, an attorney might employ psychologists, hand-writing experts, accident reconstructionists, or computer technicians, to name a few. 

Of course, science as part of a criminal case is no surprise for fans of CSI:wherever, though television hasn’t done much for the real-life doctors and lawyers in terms of setting expectations.  On TV, the perfect trial of experimental drugs just happens to be run by the doctor’s mother’s favorite grocery clerk’s daughter, strings are pulled and the adored patient in question is cured just in the nick of time.  Or a witness on the stand happens to utter some innocuous phrase that triggers the 2nd chair attorney to remember something said by her favorite grocery clerk’s father’s golf pro and a long lunch is enough time to turn the whole case around.  Or the CSI finds one hair at the crime scene that they match to the real perpetrator’s new girlfriend’s mother’s cat and the truth pours out. Oi.  In real life, people can’t always afford the drugs that could save them, law enforcement doesn’t even have the budget or will to take fingerprints and justice doesn’t always prevail. 

Of course, that doesn’t mean the individual doctor or lawyer you are dealing with doesn’t make a lot of difference in the quality of your experience and in the caliber of your result. You need someone you can talk to and who will listen to you, someone with persistence and someone dedicated to learning all the new science and case law.  Just don’t expect them to act like Jack McCoy or Dr. McDreamy.