How to Negotiate: Replace Lawyers with Vending Machines

The new lawyer negotiator
Why do some prosecutors even bother?

Nobody is gettin’ off easy if those slimy defense attorneys can’t work deals

You would think lawyers learn how to negotiate in law school.  They don’t, though.  You only learn things about the law in law school.    You learn how to do legal research, so you can teach yourself the stuff about law that they never taught you in law school (which, by the way, is a lot of damn stuff).  Then you get that first bad legal job, so you can learn how to apply all that stuff you’ve learned (and learned how to learn) in the real world.  And, when you work at that first bad job, you not only learn how to apply that knowledge, but you learn that not everything is black-and-white.

If you go into criminal law, the fact that not everything is “black-and-white” can ruin your life.  Just because somebody was shot, doesn’t mean they were murdered.  Just because a police report says somebody was driving and drunk, doesn’t mean they’re always going to be guilty of DUI/OUI.  Just because you know the cops violated your client’s Miranda rights doesn’t mean the judge is going to throw out your case.

We live in the grey area.  That’s why the cops hate us. They make an arrest because they “know” somebody is guilty.  It’s black-and-white to them.  If we can convince a prosecutor it’s not as solid as the cops think, though, then we’ve got room to negotiate.  Negotiating is as much the lawyer’s craft as trial skills are.

Criminal law has become more about negotiating than anything else.  Just ask the Supreme Court.  Unless, of course, prosecutors have “an office policy.”

Man, I hate “office policy.”  “Office policy” is how a prosecutor in court tells you that he’s not interested in negotiating because, quite frankly, his boss won’t let him.  This happens when some boss somewhere decides every case of that type should be treated the same- despite the fact that the cases aren’t the same.  And, the boss is never the one in court doling out this “office policy” news.

Don’t get me wrong- I’m not talking about getting a “you’ll have to talk to my supervisor about that” if you’re trying to work something out on a dicey case.  Or even getting something like “we don’t make offers on sex cases.”  I’m talking about when some low-ranking prosecutor tells me they can’t really talk to me about some piddly, dumb, misdemeanor or petty offense. Like speeding, or underage consumption of alcohol.  Then they say the same thing to other attorneys about different cases.  It’s as if they don’t have the discretion to negotiate anything.

Because they don’t.

This is starting to happen more and more.  Some people think that setting up office policy is a way prosecutors can be tough on crime.  They’ll show us, right?  Nobody is gettin’ off easy if those slimy defense attorneys can’t work deals.  No sweet-heart deals on speeding in this little Mayberry!

When will a new prosecutor learn how to negotiate if he never has the chance?

I’ve got an idea. It’s brilliant, really- Fire all of those prosecutors.  Not the ones pronouncing the brilliant, exhaustive policy.  Fire the ones who are marching down to court without the discretion to do a lawyer’s job.  The ones who are useless.

Did I just call them useless? Yeah. Useless.  That has a nice ring to it.

Look, I’m not meaning to slight them.  I’m really not.  It’s not their fault they can’t negotiate.  Although I might get frustrated with them in court, I know it’s not their policy.  They’re just doing what their bosses tell them.

They’re still useless, though.  In this era of mega-budget deficits and financial cliffs, I don’t see how “useless” fits in any budget.  I’m all about cutting waste, and some kid standing in front of a line of lawyers repeating “I can’t make an offer on that” or “Our policy is to offer you…” is completely wasteful.

You could fire the useless lawyers, replace them with some sort of a fancy machine or computer program that would dole out the bad offers, and save millions.  Defense attorneys could just walk up to the plea machine, punch in the statute of their case, and the plea machine could spit out the same useless offer (or non-offer) that the old prosecutor did.  You could even fire a whole bunch of public defenders.  With any luck, you’d even put a bunch of weirdos like me out of business.  “Why would I get a lawyer if I can work the plea machine myself?”

With all the money you’d be able to spend on more important things, think of how wonderful you could make the world.  You could use the money to feed the homeless or buy medication for the infirm.  You could fix roads and build infrastructure.  Hell, you could even supplement the salary of some of those poor, underpaid police officers who are barely able to make ends meet at $100,000 per year.

Or, you could just let lawyers do what lawyers should do in an imperfect world with imperfect cases: Negotiate.

Author: matthaiduk

Matt Haiduk is an uncooperative Criminal Defense Lawyer with offices in Kane County and McHenry County, Illinois. When he's not picking on people on the internet, he's playing frisbee with his dog or watching his girlfriend race bikes. Feel free to mock him on twitter or add him on Google+.

11 thoughts on “How to Negotiate: Replace Lawyers with Vending Machines”

  1. Hmmm!! Now everything is so clear to me. Lets give the lawyers all the rope they need to practice their perfect craft in this unperfect world. Let them continue to negociate multi mullion dollar class action suits for victims that will never get nearly enough money to put their lives back where they were before the injury. Lets let the profession continue to negociate with judges so that their billed hours sometimes is more than half of the entire class action award . Wow what a perfect world that would be!!!!

  2. Would you prefer everything was forced to trial? It would cost the taxpayers a whole HELL of a lot more money. And, as far as the criminal system goes, there would be a lot more people "getting off".

    I'm not the one who said the criminal justice system is a "system of pleas". Your Supreme Court said that. If you believe everything should go to trial, I'm all for it. Just let the Supreme Court know that.

  3. Hello Matt I agree with you that not all cases should be forced to trial, IMO most cases do not belong in our already over burdened court systems.Negociating or more correctly knowing how to negociate is one of the most important skills a lawyer can have in his/her arsenal. I had issues with Broward Circuit Judge Leroy H Moe awarding Willie E Gary of Florida $1000 an hour for his class action suit against Motorola. Another class action suit in Florida , notably the Chinese Drywall Suit was settled and awarded $54,000,000, seems like alot of money but then take away the lawyer fees and most home owners will only get about $4000 each. Was this the purpose of the lawsuit? Look it up and you will see that a large portion of the award went to the Law Firms that handled the case. I am sure that if most victims knew in advance what their compensation would of been vs the Law Firm's they would of opted not to join the class action.

    1. Well, you're not going to get much argument out of me that the class action stuff is messed up. There are reasons why the lawyers can make so much money. Although, in theory, a lot of those reasons make sense, I'm with you on the Class Action system being pretty well abused.

      Thankfully, it's a far cry from criminal law. And where individual people with individual rights are facing accusations backed by the entire force of the government's might… well, I think that the prosecutors in court should be empowered to look at the facts of each case and make the proper offer.

  4. Excessivebail, what a mess our legal system is in. Maybe a complete overhaul is needed. Law schools keep churning out new Lawyer at record numbers. Their literature keeps saying that all their graduates will earn $160,000 a year, over 95% find jobs on graduation. They paint a rosy picture, why not, at $50,000 a session tuition fees who wouldn't. No where in their glossy phamphlet does it say that major law firms have cut 20,000 jobs because of the economic downturn. In Canada some law students have even attempted to file a class action suit against certain Universities for giving a very bias outlook on job opportunities after graduating from their prestigious school. What is a law student to do once they amass a $200,000 student loan and a bleek job future. The lucky ones that land jobs in the big firms find that they are stuck in a rat race. They have to bill 2000 hours and keep business comming in. Is this not a recipe for a good lawyer going to the dark side. Look up on google billing hours for young lawyers and both the Americain and Canadian gov'ts both feel this is not in the clients' best intrest. When Oct and Nov comes along and a young lawyer is behind in his billable hours, will he overbill his present customers so that the Firms senior partners could upgrade their Mercedes? I am being a little dramatic but do you at least get the point I am trying to make. This proffession was once a noble proffession , is it any wonder why Lawyers and Insurance brokers always score at the bottom of the public's trust.

    Just a closing note , one class action suit will bill many many hours for a lawyer!!! Hmmmm!

    1. Maybe if you're going to post a spam link to something with "integrity" in the title you could actually read the post first? Maybe the relevance would be a little more obvious? Maybe?

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