What To Keep In Mind When Hiring A Criminal Defense Attorney
Does the lawyer have the necessary skills and experience to handle your case? Do you agree with the proposed strategy? Do you have confidence in him or her? Is that confidence well placed?
This article discusses all of these considerations in more detail.
Before hiring a criminal defense attorney, you should meet the lawyer to discuss the legal charges against you. The purpose of this meeting is to:
- Decide whether this is the criminal defense attorney you want representing you
- Tell the lawyer about the accusations against you
- Give the lawyer your version of what happened and any other facts that may be relevant
- Get to know the lawyer, his or her background, and experience
Evaluating a Criminal Defense Attorney
Be careful interpreting the advertisements criminal defense lawyers use. Dont assume a lawyer is an expert in a particular area of the law. Its important to learn about background and experience.
Because you’ll be facing specific charges brought by a prosecutor, you want to make sure your criminal defense attorney has sufficient experience with those charges. Its also helpful if your lawyer is familiar with the prosecutor handling the case. Ask:
- How long has the lawyer been defending clients facing federal or state felony charges?
- How often does the lawyer appear in the courthouse where your case will be heard?
- How well does the lawyer know the prosecutor trying your case? Have they worked opposite one another before? How would the prosecutor describe the lawyer as an opponent?
- What percentage of the lawyers practice consists of representing clients facing similar charges?
- If the attorney practices in other areas as well, what percentage of the workload consists of criminal defense cases?
The ideal attorney will have experience with the exact charges you are facing. Its also helpful if he or she has a good reputation among the prosecutors who work out of the courthouse where you case will be heard.
Criminal Defense Strategy
The criminal defense attorneys you meet with will need to know what you’re up against.
To understand the charges the local district attorneys office or U.S. attorney's office (for federal crimes) has filed, the lawyer may want you to fill out a questionnaire. Ask about any paperwork that needs to be sent to the lawyer ahead of the meeting, then make sure you follow through. This will give the attorney time to consider what strategies to pursue.
When you meet, let the lawyer lead the conversation. Some lawyers will want to hear about the case against you first before getting into your version of the events. Answer the questions that are specifically asked of you.
If you cannot get the prosecutor to drop the charges against you, you're facing several options. You can plead guilty, try to arrange a plea agreement in which you plead guilty to a lesser charge, or you can go to trial. Discuss each of these options and their consequences with the criminal defense lawyer. Depending on your states law, a guilty plea to a felony may result in mandatory jail time.
The criminal defense attorneys strategy will be tailored to the specific circumstances of your case. This includes the charges you are facing and the evidence the prosecutor has against you. As you discuss how the lawyer would handle your case, ask yourself:
- Does it sound as if the lawyer has a strong grasp of the law involved?
- Does the strategy seem reasonable?
- Do you agree with it?
In the end, you will have to live with the consequences of whatever strategy the criminal defense attorney pursues. If you have issues with it, this may not be the attorney for you.
Criminal Defense Legal Fees
If you've been charged with a serious crime, you need to find a criminal defense attorney quickly. You may not have the luxury of being able to shop around different lawyers and compare prices. Still, you should understand how a criminal lawyer charges for his or her time.
Most criminal defense attorneys will either bill using an hourly fee or a flat fee. Make sure you understand how much the attorney charges, what the fee includes, what the fee doesn’t include, and how and when you must make payment. The discussion about money should take place before you hire an attorney so that there is no misunderstanding down the road.
Trust, Confidence & Judgment
One of the most important aspects of hiring a lawyer is not something concrete you can point to but how you feel about the attorney. You may be working with the lawyer for a while, and you'll want someone you can trust who shows good judgment and offers sound advice.
As you are meeting with a criminal defense lawyer for the first time, ask yourself a few questions to gauge your feelings. Ask:
- Is the lawyer patient with you as you ask questions?
- Does he or she take the time to explain unfamiliar concepts?
- Do you feel your questions were answered directly?
- Do you feel comfortable with the lawyers recommended strategy?
If you are unfamiliar with the criminal justice system, you'll especially want a lawyer who is patient with you and answers all of your questions.
After your meeting, its time to assess the lawyer. Is this someone you want representing you? How does he or she measure up when you consider:
- Fees and expenses
- Trust, confidence, and judgment
If the lawyer rates favorably, then you have found your legal representation.