"Client-centered" representation means that the lawyer gives the client the power, ability, and the right to decide what direction he wants his case to take, after being given the information and counsel he needs. The lawyer attempts to understand her client’s situation from the client’s point of view, and respects that client’s right to choose the ultimate course of his case.
Not all lawyers practice client-centered representation. They believe they alone know what is best for their clients. They tell their clients how they should resolve their cases, or they strongly – often in a patronizing or condescending manner – dictate the "right" choice. Client-centered lawyers don’t treat their clients in this way, however. Rather than insisting that the client follow their advice, client-centered lawyers spend a good amount of time and energy rethinking their advice – within the context of the client’s situation – and if still convinced they are offering their clients the best advice, develop strategies for helping clients to understand and accept their lawyers’ perspective, and why the clients should act on the advice of counsel. Ultimately, a client-centered law office lets the client decide how his or her case will be resolved, and that decision is met with respect, courtesy, cooperation, and support from the lawyer.
Client-centered representation is more complicated for public defenders, in part because at its core, client-centered representation depends on trust and respect. For client-centered representation to work effectively the lawyer must respect the client and the client must trust their lawyer. Building trust between client and public defender can take time. Sometimes public defender caseloads are too high, and PD’s struggle to find the necessary time to build that trust in client relations. Moreover, public defender clients often enter the relationship with some degree of cynicism about the criminal justice system in general, and about public defenders in particular.
Clients often don't believe public defenders are good lawyers, certainly not as good as "paid" lawyers. They sometimes question the lawyer's commitment to the client and the client's needs. Public defender clients at the outset sometimes question the lawyer's ability and loyalty to the client. This distrust is unfortunately justifiable in too many public defender offices. There are public defender lawyers who believe that a good lawyer does all the talking, and a good client listens and obeys. That's not the approach taken at the CLO.
The CLO is a client-centered, holistic office. We not only respect our clients’ stated goals of representation, we also provide representation that takes into account the whole client and his or her needs beyond mere legal representation. We listen to our clients, and we examine their special needs as they relate not only to the best possible outcome for their cases, but beyond that, the best possible means of improving their lives, and their place in their community.
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