If you have been accused of a crime, the choice of a criminal defense lawyer is crucial for your future. There may be hundreds of options available from Bar Association lists to the Internet, so how do you select someone for this all-important job?
You need someone qualified, experienced, and available. You need someone who you trust. How can you select someone to meet all these requirements?
Here are seven questions you should ask any criminal defense lawyer you are considering hiring for your case.
1. Where Are They Located?
The location of your criminal defense attorney is critical not only for your convenience. True, you may have to visit their offices frequently for meetings and depositions. But location is for more than just for your ease of scheduling.
Your criminal defense attorney must be a member of the Bar in the state where you have been accused of a crime and/or where you expect to be tried. Often Bar membership also requires that the attorney hold an office in that jurisdiction.
Each state has different rules on different crimes and punishments. You want to make sure your lawyer knows the rules in the area where the trial may be held.
A local attorney will also know the important players in the criminal justice system. They may have gone to law school with the prosecutor, or play golf with the judge. They may be able to leverage their relationships to ask for reduced bail or other considerations.
If you choose an attorney who is not admitted to the bar in the jurisdiction where your charges were filed, you will probably need to retain local counsel as well to appear in court on your behalf.
2. What Is Their Area of Specialty?
All crimes are not alike. A high powered criminal defense attorney who specializes in insider trading may have a marquee name but be inappropriate to defend a DUI charge. A lawyer who represents clients in drug-related charges may be ill-equipped to handle the complex accounting concepts necessary in a tax fraud case.
When you are interviewing defense counsel, ask them about their successes. You want an attorney who has handled cases similar to yours and received good results.
Learn more about the different kinds of representation needed for different criminal counts.
3. What Are Their Credentials?
Before you even speak to an attorney, check out their website and biography. Have they been to an accredited law school? Are they a member in good standing of the local bar association?
Each state is different when it comes to how to find out about a lawyer’s status. In Connecticut, you can check with the Hartford Superior Court and the Statewide Grievance Committee. In New York, you must check with the New York State Office of Court Administration. Make sure your preferred attorney has not been disbarred, suspended, or disciplined for any ethical transgressions.
Check out their publications and appearances. If you are looking at white-collar criminal charges, see if your chosen attorney has given seminars on the subject, Maybe they have appeared in the newspaper representing clients facing similar charges.
4. What Is Their Track Record?
You want a defense attorney who has successfully settled or tried cases like yours. Ask about their track record. Many attorneys list representative matters on their website, so you can see if they have experience with matters like yours.
Some attorneys will let you speak to their other clients to provide testimonials of their results. If that is too awkward or personal, ask the attorneys how they define success.
If you are looking for a high profile triumph in court, you will be looking for a different kind of lawyer than one who prides herself on settling cases quickly and quietly.
5. What Is Their Reputation?
Does your lawyer speak at professional conferences? Is he quoted in the newspaper? Do judges and colleagues hold him in high regard?
A lawyer’s reputation is often rooted in truth. If prosecutors quake at the mention of your lawyer’s name, you know she has a reputation for being a fierce opponent.
Am esteemed reputation will also help in negotiations over sentencing. An attorney who commands respect can often request lenience for her client and be successful.
6. What Is Their Method of Billing?
Unless you have unlimited wealth, you need to consider cost when you choose an attorney. There are plenty of big-name firms in all areas of the country: however, they may not be right for you in terms of both experience and fees.
Most attorneys bill hourly. Sometimes, however, you may be able to arrange for a flat fee, especially on straight forward charges.
Make sure you can afford your attorney. You do not want to get out of your criminal charges only to fall into debt in paying for your defense!
7. What Kinds of Support Do They Have?
You will rarely be a lawyer’s only client, so you need to check out their support staff and partners. Who will help if your lawyer has a time conflict, falls sick, or goes on vacation?
You also want to ensure that your lawyer has resources to keep the case running smoothly. Do they have an assistant who will make sure your call is returned? Do they have a paralegal who will meet all filing deadlines?
A sole practitioner may be appropriate for your situation, provided you are assured they have everything you need for a robust defense.
Your Criminal Defense Lawyer: Who You Choose Can Make All the Difference
An effective criminal defense lawyer will have experience in cases similar to yours, have appropriate credentials, and be affordable for you. They should also be able to demonstrate to you that they have a reasonable chance of obtaining a successful result.
Interview attorneys who have handled charges like those you are facing. Ask friends and professional associations who have a great reputation in this field. Take your time in making this very important choice.
Your criminal defense lawyer can literally save your life.
For more advice on getting through the toughest challenges, keep checking back.