Clients hate to get bad news but Lamarcus Williamson was so upset about it that he punched his attorney in the face after hearing his sentence.
Williamson pleaded guilty to a string of crimes and on Tuesday a judge gave him the maximum sentence of 15 years. Public defender, Dan Hall, is seen to put a hand on his arm in a video of the courtroom drama. Shortly after that Williamson turned and sucker punched Hall. The judge gave him six extra months for that.
As a public defender for 25 years, Hall said he's never seen a client hit an attorney. Still it's a good reminder to be sensitive to a client who's just heard bad news for your own safety.
Hall wasn't actually Williamson's attorney but was at the hearing as a favor to a colleague, reports the ABA Journal. He'd met Williamson once before.
He had a split lip and a bruise but given the punch he probably got lucky. You can see from this video that Williamson wasn't messing around:
It can be hard to know what to do for a client who's just lost a big case, whether civil or criminal. Balancing sympathy with professionalism is not an easy task and you want your client to know your feelings are genuine.
Gestures often speak louder than words but before offering a hug you should first stop and think about your client.
If you've been able to build a relationship during the case you may be able to gauge his feelings on personal contact. If you aren't sure how the client feels about being touched, even in a small way, it's probably best to avoid it.
While Hall may have thought his action was comforting or reassuring, to Williamson it may have felt like an invasion of space or a condescending gesture.
Showing empathy requires considering what the other person wants, not what would make you feel better. Always take your clients personal views into account and don't underestimate the power of 'I'm sorry' rather than a pat on the back.