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Neurodivergent defendants & the poor lawyer: How might defence lawyers adapt to their clients’ needs?

Smith, Tom


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Tom Smith
Associate Professor in Law


Poor lawyering is arguably, at its core, a failure to be a good lawyer. One method of measuring ‘good’ lawyering is to assess how effectively lawyers discharge their professional duties (for example, acting in the best interests of a client). Whilst such principles provide a general indication of what good lawyers should be doing, they are amorphous and will necessarily vary depending on the particular client and their needs. The concept of ‘good’ lawyering should therefore require the ability to adapt to each client ‘as they are’ for professional duties to have practical meaning. Such duties can only be effectively discharged if lawyers are able to effectively engage with and understand their clients, and their personal and legal needs, within the context of the criminal justice process. This chapter seeks to explore this conceptual understanding of good lawyering in the context of criminal defence lawyers who represent neurodivergent defendants – that is, individuals accused of crime whose neurodevelopmental profile is atypical (for example, an autistic defendant. The chapter will argue that defence lawyers must adapt to the particular needs of such clients – which can include communication and language difficulties, sensory processing issues, and problems with learning and attention. Without doing so, lawyers cannot effectively discharge their professional duties and therefore cannot be said to be ‘good’ lawyers. This argument will be pursued by reviewing neurodivergence as a general concept and in the context of criminal justice; examining general markers of ‘good’ lawyering; exploring the challenges and implications for defence lawyers representing neurodivergent individuals and the impact on the ability to be a ‘good’ lawyer; and will conclude by considering how this problem might be addressed, not only through avoidance of ‘poor’ lawyering but by actively promoting ‘good’ lawyering for neurodivergent individuals.


Smith, T. (2022, June). Neurodivergent defendants & the poor lawyer: How might defence lawyers adapt to their clients’ needs?

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Start Date Jun 17, 2022
Deposit Date Jun 21, 2022
Keywords lawyers; neurodivergence; criminal justice; fair trial
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