Lawyers Who Represent People as Opposed to Attorneys Who Represent Companies or Movements: What Every Prospective Client Should Ask

Here at Kish & Lietz, we proudly represent individuals who are being investigated for or prosecuted with criminal offenses. A set of recent stories about how drug companies in Europe are refusing to provide the drugs used for executions reminded me about the difference between attorneys who represent individual people, versus those lawyers who mostly work for companies, or a movement, or an ideology. One of the recent death penalty drug stories can be found here.

I have almost always represented individual people during my legal career. It simply fits better with my personality, in that I sort of like the David-versus-Goliath story where it’s me and my client versus the entire system of prosecutors, federal agents and judges. The only things I need to concern myself with are my client and whatever is best for him or her and their family. However, when a lawyer represents a company, or a movement promoting an ideology, the individual person’s interests can sometimes get pushed to the side.

Death penalty issues, like the story above, are a good example of this. Many of the finest lawyers in America regularly represent people who are either facing the death penalty or who are on one of the Nation’s “Death Rows.” My partner Carl and I have been asked in the past by Judges to represent people facing the death penalty, and we have not shirked our duty, zealously pushing the best interests of our client. We only are concerned with the individual human being who we represent, and do not care whether or how that person’s case fits in the overall scheme of the movement that opposes the death penalty. On the other hand, many “movement” death penalty lawyers are subtly pushed one way or another depending on the most recent strategy used for fighting capital punishment nationwide. This became even more clear to me when I was asked to represent an executive with one of the companies that had previously provided drugs that were later used in executions. Some of my friends who regularly do death penalty cases suggested I should not do a very good job for this executive, in that my work might help in the execution of a person on death row. I politely rejected these subtle attempts to get me to not do my job for the person I was representing in that case.

The same is true when it comes to lawyers who represent companies versus attorneys who only represent individuals. We have seen in the past where highly competent lawyers who do a great job representing the company are then asked to take on a case against one of the individual executives of that company. The lawyer always tries to do his or her best, but again the subtle differences between representing people versus corporations often rises to the surface. When we represent one person, it is only that person and their family we need to keep in mind. Company attorneys, however, often need to remember that what is good for the individual client might be bad for the corporation, which could result in less work for that lawyer in the future if the company goes out of business.

I am not saying that lawyers who represent companies or movements cannot do a good job when they take on an individual’s case. They can and often do. However, prospective clients should always ask any lawyer they are interviewing whether the attorney regularly represents people as opposed to companies or movements. My experience teaches that most clients prefer the former over the latter when their freedom is on the line.