What does your lawyer support?

It’s been a while since we made any mention of Busted! In Austin, the weekly rag that runs mugshots of people who were arrested and sells ’em at trashy convenience stores and gas stations for a dollar. Clickthrough on that link in the previous sentence and you’ll get a good idea of what we think of the paper’s worth. It’s not something we value at Sumpter & Gonzalez.

I was — not a metaphor — walking my dog this morning and saw on the ground next to a tree he’d peed on (seriously, not a metaphor — he didn’t pee on the thing, just next to it) a copy of the latest issue of Busted!. It was open to some random page, and I saw an advertisement on it. For a criminal defense firm.

We don’t tend to publicly call out our local competitors in the space of this here blog. Your current author is not an attorney, and so it seems unseemly for me to do that, knowing that the lawyers who employ me deal with those folks in social and professional settings, while I do not. So I won’t call anyone out by name. However — yes — if you were arrested, it’s possible that your own attorney paid money to support the paper that ran your mugshot on the cover. At least two Austin firms advertise in the pages of Busted, and frankly, it’s just perplexing.

Not every attorney markets themselves with subtlety. Some prefer to send a dozen direct mail pieces in big envelopes that will tell your mailman, neighbors, and anyone sifting through your trash that you were arrested. Some flood the Internet with a bold social media strategy of spamming comment sections in an attempt to fool Google for a little while. And some, apparently, want to reach clients who are so stoked about having been arrested that they can’t wait to hustle down to the Circle K and grab a copy of Busted to put on the fridge.

But we haven’t met many clients like that.

For most people, being arrested is a thing that they’d very much like to forget and move past. Those who’ve never been in trouble tend to be more judgmental sometimes — don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time!, they’ll argue, and use that to justify stripping people of their dignity and trying to humiliate them, even before they’ve been convicted (after all, they wouldn’t have been arrested if they hadn’t done something wrong, right?). And, while that’s deeply unfortunate, and emblematic of a lack of compassion that’s inherent to our culture, at least there’s some basis for understanding it. The people who, say, publish Busted, or produce animated news clips that show people who’ve never been convicted of the crime in question murdering people — we can just dismiss them as people who’ve never thought too hard about things, and who are rushing to judgment out of their own callow instincts. It’s crappy, yes, and they’re not people I’d choose to share a meal with, but what can you expect? Most people are neither compassionate nor thoughtful when it comes to people accused of crimes. It’s just the culture.

But a criminal defense attorney? Man, that’s supposed to be the guy on your side. That’s supposed to be someone who’ll do whatever he can to make sure that the impact of your arrest on your life is as minimal as possible. The job is to keep this from ruining your life, to advocate for you against presumptions, and to do whatever is possible to keep a potential jury pool from seeing you as a criminal.

Part of that, by my reckoning, includes not paying to keep a magazine that runs the mugshots of people arrested for crimes they haven’t been convicted of in the newsstands. If your attorney, before he’s even met you, will actively spend money to make sure that anyone with a dollar can see a picture of your mugshot for a laugh, just because he thinks it might possibly be good for business — you have to ask yourself what that attorney might later do other things that you’d wish he wouldn’t in the name of making his job easier.

There are good attorneys in Austin — lots of them, even — and bad ones. It’s not really my place to name names, but I can tell you for sure that I’d be pretty hesitant to hire one who advertised in the pages of Busted! In Austin magazine. I’d be hesitant to allow one who did that to represent me for free. Here’s hoping it doesn’t net ’em any clients and they cancel the ad. That’s just tacky.

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