Facing criminal charges can be scary. When you are accused, you may be facing a difficult and confusing time that requires experienced, trustworthy guidance and knowledge.
This means that choosing the right criminal defense attorney is one of the most important decisions you will make. This individual will be the one who represents you and your interests, makes arguments on your behalf, tells your story, refutes the prosecution’s case, and create an effective and winning defense.
How do you find this person? What are the questions you need to ask them? What do you need to know?
1. Be Certain of Their Experience
Not all legal experience is the same. Different lawyers specialize in different areas of law. When dealing with a criminal charge, it’s extremely important to have a lawyer who has the educational training and practical experience to get you the outcome you deserve.
These dual priorities means the lawyer needs to know criminal law very well, but it also means they ought to have a fair amount of actual experience trying cases.
When looking to hire a criminal defense attorney, you should ask certain questions to help uncover if they are a good fit for your case:
- Where did you go to law school?
- How much experience do you have trying cases?
- How often are you in the court where my case is? (This is important because it means he or she will know the judges, clerks, and other staffers that make up that court.)
- Have you negotiated deals with the prosecutor’s office before? How successful were you?
- How frequently do your cases go to trial?
- How familiar are you with the changes against me and do you have experience dealing with them in court?
- What bar associations or professional organizations do you belong to?
Knowing what to ask is half the battle.
2. Know Their Colleagues
This aspect depends on which lawyer you have chosen. A solo lawyer who works at a small firm will work directly on your case and be your contact person for all of your questions.
There are lots of advantages to working with a solo lawyer, one of the main ones being the name on the door is the name that will be working with you throughout the case, with all of their personal experience directly at your disposal from beginning to end.
A lawyer who works at a larger firm will work alongside many other lawyers, researchers, paralegals, consultants, even secretaries and other assistants. All of these individuals affect the culture, priorities, and morale of the firm, and it’s a good idea to meet as many of them as you can before making your final decision.
They will have an impact on the personality and perspective of your lawyer, which will in turn shape how he or she approaches and handles your case.
This should not be taken to mean that solo law firms have fewer resources or less power; it just means that larger firms have more people, which could affect the way your lawyer will handle your case.
3. Get References
Experienced and qualified lawyers will have one thing in common regardless of their differences in law: They will have lots of happy former clients who will have reviewed them favorably online.
It will be extremely helpful to you if you can read reviews from past clients. Getting this kind of information from those who have previously worked with your potential lawyer can be invaluable in the decision-making process.
4. Look for Confidence
An experienced lawyer should know the legal system well enough to know how things turn out and what a time frame looks like for different parts of the case.
While many factors, including whether a case will even go to trial, cannot be known up front, it’s a good idea for the lawyer to know the tendencies of the prosecutor’s office when it comes to making deals.
A possible outcome of a criminal case is the prosecutor making a deal with you, so it helps to have a lawyer already familiar with what kinds of deals are offered and under what circumstances.
In short, look for someone who knows enough to be confident about their abilities, but who is not so blinded with those abilities that they make promises they cannot keep.
5. Ask for their Assessment
Not all cases are equal. You should ask for your lawyer’s honest assessment of your particular case. You need to deal in reality and facts so that you can plan accordingly.
Some of the questions you should ask your lawyer regarding their assessment of your case include:
- What parts of my case work in my favor?
- What parts of my case will work against me?
- What should I expect at different stages of my case?
This information may be the most important you can get in the process of hiring a lawyer.
6. Be Aware of Fees
You will have to pay your lawyer for his services, and several factors will affect how much you could pay.
First, an experienced lawyer will charge more than someone who has just graduated from law school. Second, lawyers differ in how they assess fees. Some charge by the hour, while others charge one flat fee, which is a set amount regardless of how many hours they spend on the case.
Flat fees are a bit more common in criminal cases. You need to know what you are paying up front and approximately how much it will be.
7. Know Who’s Working for You (and Who to Ask)
This applies only to larger firms with many different staff members. It is quite common for the initial lawyer you meet to not be the one who will actually defend you in court.
Throughout the course of your case, it’s extremely important to know who will be handling your case when and how to get in touch with them with the kinds of questions they would know how to answer.
It is imperative that you know where your case is, who is handling it and why, and how to contact the relevant people.
Thankfully, with a solo lawyer, this kind of division of labor is unnecessary and the name on the door is the name that will be defending you in court.
8. Bring the Right Documents
A court case is not a solo affair. Your lawyer will need lots of information and input from you to fairly, accurately, and honestly fight for you and your interests. This information will undoubtedly include various documents you will need to provide them at the beginning and possibly throughout your case.
When meeting with your lawyer, make sure to bring all the documents about your case:
- Any documents you have received from the courthouse that list your charges and your appearance date;
- Your bail papers;
- Any documents the police gave you after your home or other property was searched (if applicable);
- Any information that will provide an alibi or help your case (receipts, ticket stubs, emails, texts, photographs, letters, etc.).
Your lawyer should know what to ask you for and when, but it is also important to show initiative and ask them what they need from you. This will communicate that you intend to work with them as an equal partner on your case, even if you have different roles and responsibilities.
Nobody wants to face criminal charges. While a good lawyer cannot guarantee a “not guilty” verdict, picking a lawyer that will defend you, work for you, and guide you through the complexities and stresses of the legal system will be one of the best decisions you can ever make.