LA Criminal Defense Attorney Sara Azari on Being Real with Clients

We recently spoke with Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Sara Azari for the Q&A, "Fearless," in this year's Southern California Rising Stars magazine, but not all of our conversation made it into print. In the unpublished excerpt below, Azari expounds on one of her favorite phrases: "I'd rather turn you down now than let you down later."

What do you mean by that phrase: "I'd rather turn you down now than let you down later"?
sara-azari.jpgI don't want to make false promises. A lot of people come in and they want things sugarcoated, they want to feel good, but I'm pretty real as an attorney so I tell them as it is. And those people, you know, they might go hire somebody else. That's OK with me. If they remain my clients they generally aren't happy because I tell them: "Look, victory in your case could vary from this to this but not everybody gets to walk." Sometimes I see their face changing and I say, "What did you think? You shipped four boxes of meth to New York!"

What is the face change like?
Shock. "Really? I'm going to actually do time on this?" I tell them, "It's a question of how much time. If you can get two years and a drug treatment program, it's a great result." I'm talking Federal Court now, not state court.

But I understand [their reaction]. They've never been in trouble, they have no exposure, they don't know how the system works, so a lot of it is on me to educate them. But a lot of people don't like that reality and go and hire Joe next door, because Joe tells them, "Oh, don't worry. I'm gonna keep you out. You're going to be on probation."

Do you have clients the opposite of that? Who assume the worst result?
Absolutely. We talk about it, amongst my colleagues, that sometimes the most grateful clients are the ones who do go to prison. But they knew they were going to go to prison. They just knew you did the best job possible for them. They cooperated throughout the hearings, they saw how hard you fought for them, they appreciated that, and they saw, in the end, they did the most minimal time they could possibly do considering all the facts and circumstances of their case. And they send you thank-you cards from prison.