When lawyers have to defend themselves against their clients

In principle, the cabinet of Me Catherine Herrero should be able to reopen in January. A relief for this lawyer who has been living in Bobigny (Seine-Saint-Denis) for almost thirty years. « For the moment, I am housed free of charge in the premises of the Bar Association », she explains.

Today, she no longer wants to stop her job. But the idea did cross her mind when, in mid-September, she found her practice set on fire by a disgruntled client. “He called me because he wanted to retrieve a document. I was on vacation, I told him that I would be back two days later. He said nothing. Then he went to my office, where he broke everything before setting it on fire”, tells Me Herrero, who lost 70% of his paper files in the flames.

On November 7, the arsonist was sentenced to three years in prison, including ten months, and was sent to detention. “I was very hurt by what happened, but I remain a lawyer and I cannot be happy to see a man go to prison, when I keep saying that this very often prevents any reintegration », regret the lawyer.

This case remains of course isolated. « In thirty-three years of career, this is the first time that I have seen a cabinet set on fire », underline Me Frédéric Gabet, former president of Seine-Saint-Denis. “But this is part of a climate of growing tensions between lawyers and their clients. Recently, a colleague received a pair of slaps in her office,” he illustrates.

“Just this morning, a lawyer called me about a client who wanted her file back and was acting like a fury,” abounds Me Claude Garcia, president of Pau. « Physical violence remains rare, but we have more and more reports of verbal intimidation or insults », confirms Jean-Raphaël Fernandez, president of Marseille.

In many cases, these tensions are linked to the slowness of justice. The arsonist of the cabinet of Me Herrero, for example, found it hard to accept that his child custody case had still not been decided after a year and a half. « The lawyers have nothing to do with it, but they find themselves on the front line and are sometimes held responsible for the fact that it drags on so long », believes Jean-Raphaël Fernandez.

But the black dresses also say they face a « kind of consumerism » in the relationship with litigants. “In the minds of some, we have become just another service provider who should be able to solve all their problems right away. As if lawyers had an obligation of result”, deplores M.e Jérôme Gavaudan, President of the National Bar Council. “If we win in court, some clients will think it’s because their case was good. And if we lose, it’s because the lawyer was bad, » add Me Garcia.

Penalist in Seine-Saint-Denis, Me Clarisse Serre (1) also notes changes in certain “thugs” that she defends. “Sometimes we see people coming in who say to us: ‘Money is not a problem, ask for what you want.’ You have to keep a cool head and not give in to the temptation of fees that would be unjustified. This can be a trap, as some people are used to getting it all for the price. They say: “I pay so I can demand everything” ”, she explains, emphasizing the great ignorance of the work of the lawyer. « Families sometimes tell us: ‘We paid but you don’t do anything for our son who is still in prison.’ So you have to explain that we have already gone to see their son five times in detention, sometimes taking the morning to do so. And that we wrote ten letters in the process. »

For mee Greenhouse, above all you have to be » very clear « from the start and not promise what you are not sure you will get. “It is above all necessary to make it understood that justice is not a service like any other. And that it is not because we pay a lawyer that we will get out of prison or be acquitted. »


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