How To Pick A Good Criminal Defense Attorney
Don’t automatically eschew the public defender. Generally, public defenders are among the best trained and most savvy attorneys you can get. They know the lay of the land, have probably tried more cases than most private attorneys, and generally are driven by mission, not money. That means they care. If you don’t make enough money to hire your own attorney and can get assigned a good public defender, don’t mortgage the house. Better to use your money for bail then to pay for a high-priced attorney who may not do as well as the court-appointed one. If you’re in a state or federal jurisdiction where the judge doesn’t inquire into your finances and pretty much assigns everyone public counsel, consider yourself lucky.
If you choose to hire a private attorney, how do you find a good one? Start with word-of-mouth. Any friends who are lawyers know other lawyers in other fields. They may be able to refer you to someone good, or at least refer you to someone knowledgeable who can then refer you to someone with the skills to do your case. (We’re all on listservs with access to info about good attorneys pretty much anywhere.)
Look on the internet, though this method is scattershot at best. Sometimes the attorneys who pop up first may not be the best. They could merely be the ones who invested the most money in Google ads or search optimization. Yes, this shows they have good business acumen, but not necessarily good trial chops. That said, because we are now in 2019, the best attorneys should have a decent web site that includes accomplishments, client reviews, important cases, and easy-access contact information. I’d look for how long this attorney has been practicing criminal law. How many trials have they handled? Did they come from a prosecutor or public defender background? (You make the choice who would be more suited for your case.) You can always then cross reference with a general Google search of the person’s name to see if he or she has handled any high-profile cases or has popped up in the news.
The amount of money a person charges doesn’t always correlate with excellence. I call this the “Hampton” syndrome. A cousin of mine who works in the pool business in Southampton tells me if he doesn’t charge exorbitantly for his services, people won’t think he’s good. So, the same job he’d do in Coney Island for 10K, he’d charge 50K for in the Hamptons. When I first opened my own firm after a stint at the public defender’s office, I didn’t know how much to charge clients. A senior lawyer advised, “Find out what the person does for a living, figure out the highest amount he can pay, and that’s what you charge.” I was the same exact lawyer I was when I was a public defender, but it’s funny how much my reputation improved when I started charging money.
Beware of web services like Avvo that claim to rate lawyers. Their rating model is uneven at best. Some of it makes sense. They ask lawyers to solicit reviews from their clients and claim to have a system that ensures the reviews aren’t fake. However, their 1-to-10-star rating is based, in part, on what the attorney is willing to pay. For example, all lawyers get solicitations from organizations selling accolades like “Best Of” awards. Mail comes in from, let’s say, Lawyers of Distinction. The letter states, “You’ve been chosen to be named among the 100 BEST Lawyers of the Year.” The price, $350. Avvo will award you an extra star if you pay for such an endorsement. My theory is that Avvo gets kickback from such companies. (I’ve heard similar stories from doctors regarding their “Best Of” lists.)
Tips To Choose the Best Criminal Defense Lawyer
Confident but No Guarantees
Find a criminal lawyer who is confident that they will build the strongest case possible. An air of confidence is a helpful trait in a lawyer. Be skeptical of any lawyer who guarantees you a specific result.
Find a good criminal lawyer and you will find a reputation to match. Ask friends and associates for recommendations. Ask for references and talk to previous clients.
Check the Team
Preparing a case for the court is not a one-person job. Even a very good defense lawyer needs a team behind them. Check to see whether there are an administrative team, paralegals, and other criminal lawyers in Greensboro NC backing up your lawyer.
How to Select a Criminal Defense Attorney
Figure out if you need a defense attorney.
If you are facing a criminal charge, no matter how minor, you should seek legal advice. Even if you decide not to hire an attorney to represent you in court, a consultation can help you to understand the charges against you. Your attorney should explain the defenses available to you, any possibilities for a plea bargain, and what your next steps would be if you were convicted.
Research the role of a defense attorney.
Criminal defense attorneys are the attorneys that represent people charged with criminal conduct or have had a lawsuit filed against them. Most attorneys specialize in either criminal or civil law. Civil cases are typically brought by an individual or company, while criminal charges are brought by local, state, or federal government.
Decide what type of defense attorney you need.
You will need to determine if you need a state or federal attorney. If you have broken a state law, hire an attorney that specializes in state law. State law cases include traffic violations, broken contracts, robberies, and family disputes, among others. Federal cases include, but are not limited to, cases involving violation of the US Constitution, cases in which the United States is a party, bankruptcy cases, copyright cases, and patent cases.
Selecting a Criminal Defense Attorney
Who’ll be handling your case.
When you hire an attorney who’s a solo practitioner, you can be fairly certain about who will be working on your case. But if you hire a law firm with multiple attorneys, you’ll probably want to ask who will be responsible for your case and coming to court with you. Clients are sometimes dissatisfied when they think they’re hiring one lawyer—the lawyer they speak to when hiring the firm—but another attorney from the firm ends up being in charge of the case.
To avoid disputes in the future, it’s important to know ahead of time how much you’ll be paying for your case. Typically, attorneys either charge an hourly or flat rate. An attorney who charges an hourly rate bills for the actual time spent working on the case. With flat-rate fees—which are perhaps more common in criminal cases—you just pay a set amount for your case. For example, a lawyer might charge $2,500 to handle a DUI case, regardless of how many hours of work it takes. But you should always ask what the flat fee covers. Sometimes attorneys do a pretrial flat fee but there’s an additional fee if the case goes to trial. It’s also a good plan to ask about whether the attorney anticipates any other costs such as expert witnesses or investigations.
Also, ask about whether the attorney is familiar with the court you’ll be going to. An attorney who regularly practices in a certain area is more likely to know the prosecutors and judges and their tendencies. For example, an attorney might know that a particular judge is especially harsh with DUI offenders and to therefore avoid that judge’s courtroom when defending against drunk-driving charges.
Tips for Choosing the BEST Criminal Lawyer
Is the fee comparable?
An experienced attorney will probably cost more than a lawyer fresh out of law school, but if your lawyer’s fee is much higher or lower than other similarly qualified candidates, you should ask why.
You need a lawyer you can understand.
Lawyers might use specialized terms in court or when preparing legal documents, but when they are talking to you they should speak clearly using terms you will understand.
Will they take time to explain your options?
Decisions relating to your case can’t be made on a whim.Find a lawyer that will explain your options from plea bargains to sentencing. Every decision you make carries lasting consequences and you need information to make an informed choice.
Find a lawyer with courtroom experience; just in case.
Heading to court is expensive, but sometimes is the best option for your case. You need a lawyer that isn’t afraid to go to court and represent you.