I attended the Aldershot Magistrates’ Court today, representing a client charged with a second drink drive offence within three years. He faced serious consequences, and needed to be properly represented; that is why he came to me. I don’t accept instructions under the legal aid system, and will not be a duty solicitor.
It was a busy day at Aldershot Magistrates’ Court. The duty solicitor had 13 additional people to see and potentially represent. In those circumstances, the duty solicitor can only provide a very limited service to each person. He or she may well have other cases to deal with, in addition to the duty scheme.
My client had contacted me in good time to have a full conference well before the hearing date to ensure quality representation. The details I obtained from my client were reworked several times to ensure the mitigation was presented to the court in the most favourable manner.
Planning mitigation is a real art form. You have to take account of the fact that the magistrates have limited time to consider your case; they are under greater and greater time pressure as court centres are closed, imposing further strain on the existing courts. The content of your mitigation always has to be relevant; any slip will irritate your audience. Further, the structure has to be logical. Finally, the manner of presentation is all-important: your audience is human and they have feelings and prejudices; a good communicator can sense these and respond accordingly.
A good communicator means a good listener – not a good talker! I don’t worry that other lawyers will read my blogs and steal my approach; you are either a good listener or you are not. Listening is not a skill that can be faked: it requires respect for the audience, consideration for others, and ultimately it requires empathy. If you don’t have those, then you are just a talker.
In the end, the information I obtained from my client allowed me to carefully craft mitigation that sufficiently persuaded the magistrates to deal with my client with compassion, and only disqualify him for the minimum period. My client was extremely relieved; I was very satisfied with a job well done. I applied the ‘people skills’ that come naturally to me, and it is gratifying that I can use those skills professionally to benefit others.