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Lawyer-client interviews and the social organization of preparation for court in criminal and divorce cases Groves, Patricia Heffron

Abstract

This study seeks to provide an ethnographic description and analysis of the practical workings of that part of the legal system which is manifested in the daily routine practices of criminal and divorce lawyers in private practice. It documents the lawyer's role in pre-trial determinations. It aims to show how the organizational features of the lawyer's work and his relationship to other professionals on the legal scene affect outcomes for the client. The analysis rests on field observation and participation - daily for one year, and intermittently for another year - in the offices of four young defense lawyers in their first two years of a practice which consisted mostly of minor criminal Legal Aid cases and some divorce work. The main material for the analysis consists of transcripts of taped interviews between these lawyers and their clients. The lawyer's office is a link in the chain that begins with police apprehension of suspects and ends with judgment in the courtroom. In deciding how to handle the criminal client's case, the lawyer looks back in routine ways to certain features of the situation of arrest and looks forward in equally routine ways to the probable situation in court. The interview is an important phase in the lawyer1s preparation of the case and one in which major decisions are made. The lawyer takes various factors into account in making his pre-trial decisions including what is known in the legal community as the "story". The story is what the client tells the lawyer (or the police or the court) about what happened in the events that lead to his arrest. The story is the concrete focus of interchanges between lawyer and client. The main work of the interview is in eliciting and assessing the story. I examined the production and assessment of both criminal and divorce stories in terms of the features that illuminate the social organization for trial. The lawyer1s interest in what the client says in criminal and divorce interviews is similar: he focuses on the aspects and possibilities of the client's stories that are translatable into what he needs to get the job done: in divorce cases to "work up the grounds", and in criminal cases to "beat the rap". I found that in interviews with criminal clients there were two main influences on the structure of proceedings: one relating to the situation of arrest - the prosecutor's version of the police report (the "particulars"); and the other to the expected situation in court - the credibility of the client in telling his story. In divorce interviews the lawyer similarly orients to how the case will be processed at trial, and to the situation precipitating the divorce only insofar as it is usable in working up the most efficient grounds for divorce as required by the court. Working up the grounds during a divorce interview is a structured procedure following the same general routine for uncontested cases (and a different general routine for contested cases) regardless of who the client is and of what emotional state he is in. We see how expert and layman manage the course of the interaction so that for both the purposes of the interview are achieved. One of the contributions of this thesis is to provide an understanding of the workings of one part of the legal system - an understanding that is neither the lawyer's nor the layman's view. The focus is on the adaptive and rational character of the daily practices that sustain the workings of the legal system as evidenced in the routine performance of lawyers as practitioners.

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