Choosing the right criminal defense attorney for your case is critical. Your choice of attorney will undoubtedly have a considerable impact on how your situation plays out. Having represented and observed thousands of clients, I am well aware that feelings of panic and urgency can be overwhelming. However, like anything else, it is important to conduct your own due diligence to ensure that you are hiring a qualified and honest lawyer.
We hope you find the following helpful:
Referrals vs. Internet / Advertisements
Obviously a personal referral from a trusted source is the best way to find a lawyer. Over 90 percent of our clients come to us via referrals. However, if you do not have the benefit of a referral you may be limited to searching online or perhaps through a lawyer directory.
Buyers beware: the web is full of self-promoting attorneys claiming to have your best interests at heart. However, in this day and age, most attorneys (including excellent ones) have some sort of web presence; thus it is entirely possible to find outstanding criminal representation this way.
Simply check them out.
“Mill” Law Offices Offering Assembly Line Representation
Watch out for these types of law offices. They are typically larger law offices that are more concerned with turning a profit then offering committed legal representation. Despite what is discussed at the initial meeting, it is common for these lawyers to pressure you to plead guilty once they get your money. As a result, they are able to make way for new business.
Make sure that the lawyer you meet with will be the same lawyer representing you in court. We hear horror stories of clients who initially meet with an experienced attorney only to find out that their case has been delegated to a less experienced practitioner later down the road.
Who you see is who you should get. Don’t be afraid to ask for this in writing or have the attorney incorporate this understanding into the retainer agreement.
Promises or Guarantees Are Red Flags
Unfortunately there are many lawyers out there that are willing to take advantage of your weakened and vulnerable state. Many lawyers will promise that they’ll make the case go away or say that they can get the charges dismissed.
While this is possible in some circumstances it may be inappropriate if not impossible for most. Citing close relationships with prosecutors and judges these lawyers will also sometimes guarantee a specific result. This is a major red flag.
Professional relationships and local experience is very important and can significantly impact a case. However guaranteeing a result at an initial meeting is downright dishonest and unethical. The only thing a lawyer should promise is that they will work hard on your case and provide you with a zealous and aggressive defense.
Do Your Due Diligence. Check Them Out
Meet your lawyer face to face. In addition to confirming that the lawyer you meet with will be the actual lawyer representing you in court, inquire about the lawyer’s experience. How many trials have they conducted? How many of those dealt with cases similar to yours? Have they tried cases in the courthouse where your case is assigned?
Don’t be afraid to ask for specifics. Observe how the lawyer addresses your questions. Try and get a feel for whether the attorney’s claims are genuine and accurate. Ask for former client referrals. Do your homework. Any lawyer that hesitates with any of this information – consider that a red flag.
A lawyer’s reputation is often the single most important tool an attorney possesses. A lawyer’s reputation with a prosecutor and/or judge can dramatically alter the direction of a case. Does your lawyer have a reputation as being a respected trial lawyer or as a “dump truck,” who is ready to quickly plea out a client in order to turn a profit?
Being an outsider to the legal community, it can be difficult to obtain a sense of this. Review independent third-party online attorney sites and directories. Many of them offer reliable and trusted reviews by true clients, that cannot be manipulated or self-generated by a business.
State Bar Website
Attorneys can be disciplined or sanctioned for mistreating clients or providing incompetent services. These actions are a matter of public record and can be found on California’s State Bar website.
Look them up. Make sure the lawyer you are considering has a clean disciplinary record.
Accessibility / Responsiveness
Accessibility is also very important. Is your lawyer easily accessible or do they hide behind a team of receptionists? Will they be responsive to time sensitive issues or questions? Once retained, a lawyer should be reasonably available and accessible. Things come up so be satisfied that your lawyer is easy to reach.
Courtroom and Trial Experience
This is probably the most important factor when considering who to hire. Make sure the lawyer you are considering has extensive criminal trial experience as a defense lawyer and not a prosecutor. For example, many defense lawyers have tried countless cases as a prosecutor but lack any real trial experience as a defense attorney. Also make sure they have tried cases similar to the allegations in your case.
Don’t discount the younger generation of lawyers so long as he or she has extensive trial experience. They are often very motivated, hungry, and talented. The same notion applies to the older, seemingly more seasoned litigator. Don’t select an attorney simply because he or she has 40 years of experience. While perhaps a gifted advocate in their day, it is possible that the lawyer hasn’t tried a case in front of a jury in years. Or even worse, isn’t up to date on current law or the local procedure of a particular courthouse.
Again, just do your homework.
The Bottom Line
Hire a lawyer that exceeds the requisite qualifications and that you get a good feeling from. Does the lawyer come off with the right attitude and are they responsive to your concerns and questions. You will likely have many questions and that’s ok. Part of a lawyer’s job is to inform you of the process, what your rights are, and to educate you on what to expect. Beware if an attorney is dismissive from the outset. It’s often telling of things to come.
Your lawyer should offer a straightforward assessment of your situation and an honest evaluation of what he or she will bring to the table.
Discuss strategy: ask what kind of investigation will be conducted, what motion work does the attorney anticipate, and what legal issues does the lawyer foresee. At the end of the day, be confident that your lawyer will keep you informed and aggressively advocate on your behalf in order to avail you of the very best result.
Settle for nothing less.