If you are facing a criminal charge, you will want to make sure that you hire an attorney who focuses on criminal cases rather than civil matters. If you have received legal assistance in a civil matter, however, you can ask that attorney for a referral to a criminal lawyer. Most criminal lawyers work in small firms or independently, and they tend to work with individuals in a limited geographic area. This makes the nature of their work very different from the work of many civil attorneys, who may work in large firms that serve national or even international corporations. Civil attorneys build ongoing relationships with their clients, while criminal attorneys usually represent a client only once or on an irregular basis.
While some private criminal lawyers started their careers as public defenders, others worked as prosecutors before building a private practice. Experience as a prosecutor should not be a red flag and may be an advantage in some cases. Former prosecutors may have insights into how the other side will be approaching your charges.
Choosing a Criminal Lawyer
One of your top priorities in choosing a lawyer should be finding someone who has represented defendants who have faced charges similar to yours. Criminal law encompasses many areas with distinctive characteristics. Defending someone against an assault or murder charge can be very different from defending someone against a theft or fraud charge. You should ask about the experience of an attorney before deciding to hire them. Most criminal attorneys provide initial consultations, at which you can have this conversation. You should hesitate before hiring an attorney who does not give you a clear answer, since there likely will be another attorney in your area who can.
Your attorney should be familiar not only with the substantive laws governing your case but also with the procedures in the court where your case will be heard. This can make a huge difference because important rules are often specific to a certain court. An attorney with local connections also may be familiar with individual district attorneys and how they pursue charges. They may know what to expect from a plea offer, and they may have a sense of how willing a certain prosecutor may be to reach a deal. Police officers can play a key role in the prosecution’s case. A local attorney may have insights into the credibility of individual officers and may be able to craft a strategy to attack their testimony.
Last but not least, you should make sure that you are personally comfortable and confident with your attorney. You may be impressed by their experience, their local knowledge, their credentials, and their results, but you also need to build a trusting relationship with them. You should feel that you are an equal partner in the process of defending the charges and that you have the ability to make decisions with your attorney. They should explain the legal process in language that you can understand, and you should feel able to confide in them. Ideally, your attorney should show interest in you as a person rather than just resolving your case. This will help them develop a strategy that meets your specific needs.