Finding yourself in need of a defense lawyer requires level headedness. While the issue at hand may be pressing, you need to take the right steps when choosing a criminal defense lawyer. This is mostly because of the high stakes involved. Before we jump into the specific steps you should take, let us first make a clear distinction.
If you are facing criminal charges, a civil defense lawyer will not be of much assistance. As they are used to litigating civil matters like parking tickets and the like, they do not have the requisite experience to mount a criminal defense. That said, here are ten things to consider when choosing a trustworthy defense lawyer.
1. Seek Referrals
This may be tricky as most people are private about their criminal pasts.
But it is the best place to start. You also do not have to divulge information about your personal situation when asking. These may be from friends of the defense lawyer or even their relatives. It does not have to be from people they represented. Ask about their reliability, how long they have been practicing, their character traits, and so on.
Getting a good reading of the kind of person they are is a good place to start as you move to further look at their other professional qualities.
2. Do Criminal Defense Research Online
Today, finding information about defense lawyers online is easy. The American Bar Association offers state-specific information besides the dozens of websites that list and grade lawyers.
When researching, look for reviews and well-written profiles.
While these will mostly be marketing material, and so not entirely objective, they will provide you with a good place to start. Pick three or four and see if you can contact them for a quick chat. Be careful not to divulge too much information or make any commitments.
3. Check The Attorney’s Work History
Lawyers can specialize in hundreds of different law niches ranging from personal injury law, to tax law, to health, intellectual property, divorce, business, bankruptcy and so on. Law is a broad topic.
Keeping that in mind, there are so many areas of criminal defense that most defense lawyers choose to only practice in a few. These few areas are the ones you want to find out about. If you need to be defended against DUI charges, you need a defense lawyer with a history of defending such cases. This will give you a better chance when it comes to the case as they will know the subtle nuances that go into defending such a case. You can do this by looking at their online resume or simply asking them.
4. Check The Lawyer’s Training
Following closely on the previous point, their training will also tell you whether you can trust them with your case. First, do they have a criminal defense training background. Next, do they have any certification in the specific area you need to be defended in.
Some states allow such specialization certifications so look out for this. If they have undertaken such training, it shows they are not only competent but also have a commitment to practice in that area of specialization.
5. Choose a Local Law Firm
We cannot emphasize this enough. Local defense lawyers know how the system works in in your area. They have defended cases in the court you have been assigned to, they know the local police, they know the judges and prosecutors, etc. In short, they are your best chance of mounting a formidable defense.
Another reason why you should pick a local defense lawyer is that they are well known and have a reputation to protect. This means when they defend you, they will do all that they can to win.
6. See How Compatible the Two of You Are
You will be sharing some very intimate things with your defense lawyer.
You will possibly spend a lot of time together as well. You need someone you synergize well with. Someone who you get along with and can open up to easily. You also need someone who cares about you as a person and does not consider you just another case file. You need defense lawyer that you can literally entrust your life to and know that they will do all that is in their power to help you.
7. Ask Your Attorney the Right Questions
Here are some questions to ask:
- Have you defended people with similar charges?
- Have you worked in the court my case is assigned to?
- Of all your cases, how many were related to the charges I am facing? Do you have any certifications in the area of criminal law I require?
- Are you familiar with the prosecutor and judge assigned my case and how they work?
These and related questions should help you understand whether they have the skill, knowledge and experience to defend you well.
8. Ask About Fees Upfront
Sometimes, a defense lawyer may rush you to make a commitment before properly discussing fees. Do not allow this. Before they start working, ask them whether they charge a fixed fee or an hourly fee, or both.
Ask them what constitutes billable work and hours and what does not. Ask them how they will want to be paid; whether installments or a lump sum at the end. Keep in mind contingency fees, which are pegged on a certain outcome of the case, are not allowed in criminal law.
9. Confirm Who You Will Be Working With
While most criminal defense lawyers work solo, some work in small teams.
This means the person you speak with may not be the person who shows up in court to defend you. This is especially important because the person you spoke to could be experienced and highly skilled but the person representing you is a junior lawyer.
Be very clear about who will be representing you as you may sign the commitment papers only to find the person defending you is not who you thought it would be.
10. Interview The Lawyer Before Hiring Them
Perhaps you may be pressed for time and need a criminal defense lawyer quickly. This should not deter you from interviewing prospective defense lawyers. Even if you may not have the luxury of in-person interviews, do it over the phone or Skype. Getting that interpersonal experience with a lawyer will go a long way towards helping you pick someone you can trust with your defense.
Picking a trustworthy defense lawyer is an important exercise you should not take lightly. The person you end up working with will be playing a critical role in how your case turns out, and the consequences you face as a result.