HOW TO HIRE A CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY
Hiring a criminal defense attorney is very much the same as hiring any other service person such as a stockbroker or an insurance agent. The major difference is that your LIBERTY AND FREEDOM are at stake.
If you are suspected of committing a crime, the consequences on your future can be devastating to say the least. Just the fact of being arrested, even if no charges are filed or the case is dismissed, can have a permanent effect on your future.
That is why it is CRITICAL that if you learn that you are even suspected of having committed a crime, that you retain an experienced criminal defense counsel as soon as possible.
If you have never been in trouble before, you probably have no idea how hire a criminal defense attorney. Here are some suggestions to help you get started.
- If you know someone who has been in trouble in the past, ask them who represented them and whether or not they were satisfied with their representation. If so, try calling and interviewing that attorney.
- If you have a personal attorney, ask him or her to do some checking into possible criminal defense attorneys in your area. He or she may not know anyone personally, but they should know who to call to obtain some possible names.
- Check the yellow pages under Attorneys: Criminal Defense. But do not assume that those who have the most elaborate ads are going to be the best. This is oftentimes not the case. An attorney who has to generate the amount of money necessary to pay for an elaborate yellow page add, will have to maintain a high volume of cases, which may mean that your case will not get the individual attention it needs.
-Check the internet for Criminal Attorneys in your area. As with the Yellow Pages, the best internet site does not necessarily mean the "best attorney." Follow the other steps in this outline to check out each attorney you are considering.
- Once you have a few names from whatever source, start making calls. Remember, you are interviewing the person who will be responsible for your future. Do not be intimidated. Ask many questions.
- Does the person practice primarily criminal law or do they handle many different kinds of cases? If they handle many different kinds of cases, they may spend less time keeping up on the rapidly changing criminal law.
- How many years has the person been in practice?Typically, the more experience the better.
- Where did the person go to law school? The better the law school does not necessarily mean better attorney but that is one possible indicator.
- Ask the attorney how he or she will approach your case. Will there be an investigation done by the defense? If so, by who and at what cost? Make sure that is included in the retainer.
- Many times there will be a delay between when you are arrested or suspected of a crime, and the actual filing of charges. Sometimes the police and/or the prosecutor can be persuaded not to actually file formal charges in court if they can be convinced that they cannot prove a case or if there are significant mitigating circumstances. This means the attorney has to be very aggressive. An investigation must be started as soon as possible by a defense investigator so that the police and the district attorney can be persuaded they will not be successful if they take you to court.
- If formal charges have been filed in court, you don’t need to rush out and hire an attorney right away. The criminal process, once started, can be fairly slow. On your first appearance in court, you will always be given enough time to retain an attorney. Sometimes the Public Defender will be automatically appointed to your case. A retained attorney can always come in and take the case over at a later time, although it is always preferable that this be done sooner rather than later.
- Ask to review the attorney's written fee agreement. Make sure what the attorney says they are going to do is briefly described in the retainer agreement. Do not be pressured to sign immediately. Carefully review the proposed retainer.
- If the attorney promises or guarantees to get a positive outcome.....run the other way! There are no guarantees in criminal law.
- Remember that being innocent is no guarantee that you will be treated fairly by the system. In fact the entire criminal justice system is structured to process people who are guilty. The system does not deal well with people who are actually innocent.
- Fees: Let’s face it......good, highly qualified and experienced criminal defense counsel are expensive. Some attorneys take credit cards, others may be able to work out payment plans. But beware of defense attorneys who will take on your case for little or no money. As with anything else, you get what you pay for. You want someone representing you who will aggressively prepare and argue your case. That takes time and resources.
- Once you have retained an attorney, make sure they will respond to all of your questions. It is sad, but true that once an attorney has been retained, he or she may be unresponsive to questions you may have. You can always bring in other counsel to take over the case if you are dissatisfied. You may lose the retainer you have already paid, but in the long run remember, it is your future at sake.