I've been meaning to write about this for some time, and Wretched of the Earth's Courtroom Etiquette
post reminded me of it. (excellent post, by the way, I'd love to see an actual draft. I think Imapd mentioned something similar, but I can't find it. Where is she, anyway?)
Have many of you PDs worked in the private sector before going to work for the State? I would be interested to hear of your experiences. I worked in the Corporate world - attorney offices and CPA firms - for 7 years before going to law school. Already I can see tremendous differences between that world and the PD's office here in town. I'm sure a lot of it has to do with the fact that billable hours don't drive the paycheck, but there is something else, as well.
One thing I was told by fellow interviewers (well, two, and they were good friends from school) was to stop freaking out. Like, if I was one minute late, I'd be feeling guilty, and I'd certainly note it on my pro bono time sheet. How much of a dork am I. But seriously, I have this crazy, someone's-over-my-shoulder-with-a-whip thing about working. I daydream like the rest of us, but lord knows I'm always worried I'll get caught and be considered a disappointment. It's not because I want to look the best or something. It's because if I get caught, I will feel ashamed. Like I have let the business down. My conduct - hell, all of our conduct - affects the business' bottom line, whether it's a Big Corp or a small one. See, my parents own their own business, as does my sister, and I had a small graphic design one for a while myself. So I feel a very close, immediate relation between my work (its presence and its quality), the success of a business, and all the business' employees ability to buy a house, car, and groceries. This has served me very in the Corporate World - I was never conscious of it, but I always did my best, because, frankly, I couldn't live with myself otherwise.
So - the PD's office. A real shock. Everyone was able to operate on their own. No one looked over their shoulders - maybe formally, in that people had performance objectives and stuff, but it didn't feel like a realistic threat. People just did what they needed to do, and got on with it. I have to admit, it felt pretty wonderful. I thought I was dreaming it, like there must be a catch somewhere. And there may be yet. But not one that I could see.
To be fair, that's the extent of my experience with the PD's office; I was up at the jail most of the time. Like I said, I'd be very interested to hear of your experiences, and if you have any advice for a smooth transition.
Now for a different observation. People in the corporate world are constantly beseiged by management's efforts to be "more efficient." Efficiency equals more time, and time is money. It's good logic, if only because efficiency is nicely helped along by information, usually a deluge of it. We all remember the memo about the TPC Reports. But these things can be so helpful
: to inform new employees, to keep everyone abreast of changes, etc. Now, I am not
a memo-happy bureaucratic paper pusher! But in areas that are suffering from a decided lack of information-giving, a little explanatory memo or two can go a long way.
I'm speaking specifically of the criminal legal process. In my time at the courthouse, I've seen so much confusion, just a general wtf-is-going-on, people milling about aimlessly because they haven't got a clue where to go, people who don't even think
to ask for assistance in figuring it out because it doesn't occur to them or because it's beaten out of them, or whatever. When I was to interview Juveniles right out of their first appearance, the kids were instructed by a Bailiff to walk down the hallway and "go into the door on the left, far down, across from that other courtroom." Okay, there are like a billion people milling around, about seven doors, all on the left, that qualify as "far down" and "across from that other courtroom". Few signs. So people don't question the Bailiff further, they just go wandering down the hall; some make it, some never do. My little interview room is on the far left, the courtroom is on the far right, with bench seating outside that people sit at before they go in to their hearing. Me, I've got a little clipboard that I'm supposed to perch on the little half-wall separating the open hallway from the benches, across from my room. A lot of people - none
of them juveniles or their families - are waiting in the seats outside this courtroom, coming and going. They see my clipboard. On the clipboard is a sheet printed by the PD's office: "Sign in here, then come on in." You can imagine what happens. Multiply that by 100 and that's what actually happened.
Seriously, it was so crazy that I don't know why other interviewers weren't so
absolutely disgusted with all the superfluous crap they had to deal with, just because of a confusing little sheet of paper - I don't know why they didn't just change it. Why? It seriously makes no sense. So you know what I did? I wrote on the sheet "Juvenile Court only" "Parents and guardians, please stay with your children" "Please knock" instead of come right in for pete's sake, it's a little room and I'm interviewing someone and 80 times throughout the day I'm interrupted by people just waltzing in - sometimes juvenile, mostly people who were supposed to be going to the courtroom opposite. What a mess.
Anyway, once I changed up the Sign-In sheet (took me 5 seconds tops), and asked the bailiff if he wouldn't mind telling the kids "exactly 5th door on the left", life changed, too. It was great. Things suddenly went so smoothly - for me and
, more importantly, for the kid and family - that I wondered if all the headache had actually been a dream. And so this got me thinking, What else is going on here in this system that could be helped by just a few instructional words? It blows my mind that there's not already
some Courtroom Etiquette
hand-out to give to Defendants. I truly mean no offense, but, seriously, why isn't there?
(Or is there and I just don't know about it? distinct possibility) Criminal defendants are the most likely to be unfamiliar with the formal mannerisms of judicial proceedings, to be unfamiliar with the (usually white) Judge's concept of respect and manners, of the (usually white) Jury's. I've been reading a lot of blogs and this seems to be a recurrent complaint, that the defendant just botches his whole case before the formal trial has even started. Additionally, it seems to me that many criminal defendants will refuse most verbal suggestions, warnings, and admonishments to sit up straight, dress nice, etc, because it is demeaning to be told to do that. I think a memo on proper dress and activity would really work, especially if it was presented as routine. I could be totally wrong. Disasterously wrong. What has been your experience?
The fact is, because of my type of schooling and formal jobs, I'm used to having a lot of information guide me to where I need to be, what I need to do, throughout my day. I like to think that, as a result, I'm very focused. I'm always looking for things to help focus me, to help me get things done; even just moving down the street, I pay attention to the lights, cars around me, speed, whether there's a cop, whether there's an opening up ahead, etc, always evaluating my circumstances and actively making decisions. Always computing, always thinking. I'm constantly taking in data and so it only seems logical to put it to some use. I hated the corporate world, but I think I was very well suited for it.
So if I was a kid that just came out of juvenile court, being me, I would ask for very specific directions to the interviewing room. If someone wasn't very clear, I'd ask someone else, or just start exploring. And I wouldn't be distracted from finding it. And if I saw a general sign-in sheet, I'd ask if it was for the courtroom or the PD. Because I want to make sure that I get done what I need to get done.
How must it be, then, for someone who lives an almost opposite existence? Who doesn't expect - and certainly doesn't get - much helpful information from others? That row of courtrooms is the most disorganized walk in all of history, to me. So are Social Security offices, and lord knows what else. Probably the kid's whole life, and his family's, too. Oh, and the jail. The jail
. Nobody explains anything, just waits for an enterprising soul to come forward to ask. And it's only rarely that a clear answer is given, so the person who dared ask is now flummoxed yet again, and usually just goes and sits down or leaves. How many times have I been waiting for my Special Pass at the Jail's visitor entrance, only to listen to the COs tell some wife or son that the inmate's not here, they're at such-and-such, or at the courthouse, or in transit. With these last two issues, wouldn't you ask, "Well when might they be back?" but no, the visitors just wander off. And, if the inmate's been transferred, and the visitor asks for directions, my GOD the COs practically send the visitors to Abudabi and then back. The visitor asks for clarification (and a good many of them don't speak much English), and the CO compeletly confuses them again before waving them off, "Next please!" The visitor blinks, backs away, and sinks into the shadows.
I mean really. So much stress, so many headaches, could be saved with just a clearer bit of communication. I don't understand why people don't do this automatically.
I am making it my goal to provide the absolute best, clearest, most instructive information to my clients once I am a PD. I think about this a lot, actually, and all the experiences I read about on these blogs are so helpful. I would appreciate any advice you may have on the subject, as well; who knows, I could be beating a dead horse and not even know it. I hope not. That would be depressing.
Thank you in advance for your thoughts. :)
EDIT: From A Public Defender's Life in Alaska
Learning after you get here that the State will not pay all of your medical dues or your bar dues or your case load will be huge does not do you any good. I'm sure it is just not Alaska. I'm sure it is the same everywhere. But going from a private employer to a public employer has it's drawbacks. In a private office there is someone you can go and directly bitch to. The State just shrugs and says "hope you don't ruin your credit or go hungry over our mistake but what can we do?"