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The Midnight Call

September 8, 2011

Part 1 in a two part series: Emergency Criminal Conundrums for the Family Law Attorney by James M. Hallett

YOU HAVE JUST drifted into a deep and satisfying sleep when the telephone rings…once…twice… three times. You shake yourself awake and glance at the clock. Who could be calling you at this hour? You pick up the phone and mumble “hello.” The urgent voice on the other end is that of your new client, and he is audibly upset and says he’s in trouble. He asks for your help. Now, what? You really know very little about this client, and even less about the criminal matter he describes. What should you do?

ARE YOU AVAILABLE?

The answer to this question should begin to take shape long before this midnight call. Every family law attorney must think through this scenario and decide ahead of time whether to take the call. If so, will you limit your availability to current clients or take cold calls, too?

We all make ourselves accessible to our clients to varying degrees. Some of us are like bail bondsmen-always available, day or night, either by cellphone or answering service, 24-hours a day. Some of us go to the other extreme and do not accept voicemails after 5:00 p.m. No one, except our kids, gets our cellphone number. The rest of us are somewhere in between, often checking voicemails and or checking every incoming e-mail on our smartphones. We sleep, however, uninterrupted through the night.

Wherever you fall in this spectrum, you hopefully have made a conscious decision about your personal priorities. Having done that, ask yourself what you are willing to do at midnight when a client does manage to reach you. After a midnight arrest, a midnight visit from Child Protective Services (CPS), or a midnight call from the hospital where your client has just put his spouse, time is likely of the essence in mitigating the consequences to your client. But before you address the client’s problem, be clear about your own professional priorities.

A lot of us simply do not want to deal with midnight emergencies. We treasure our personal space, we don’t think clearly at midnight, it is family time, or whatever. Make this decision in advance and have someone at the ready who can pick up the ball. Then make sure to keep this referral at your fingertips for whenever you need it.

James Hallett is a Certified Criminal Law Specialist, Certified Family Law Specialist and a member of A Better Divorce. This article was first published in Family Advocate Vol. 33, Number 4 (Spring 2011).

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