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What to Consider When Hiring a Criminal Lawyer
You should follow one key rule if you have been arrested or charged with a crime, or even if you have been questioned or approached by the police in connection with a suspected crime. Do not talk to the police under any circumstances.
Watch this video to understand why.
If you are facing a criminal charge, even if it seems minor, you should strongly consider hiring a criminal lawyer. A conviction can have a lasting impact on your professional, educational, and social prospects, long after any penalties have expired. You may know that a defendant in a criminal case has a right to representation by an attorney. If you ask for a free lawyer, though, the court will assign a public defender to your case. While many public defenders work hard for the accused, they tend to handle massive caseloads with limited resources. This means that a public defender may not be able to build a defense with the sophistication and care that a private attorney could. Therefore, hiring a criminal attorney of your choice may make a significant difference to the outcome of your case.
Deciding who is the right lawyer for you can be challenging. A basic Google search can be a good place to start, but this should be only a first step. Google searches will lead to a wide range of results, including many paid listings that do not necessarily reflect the skill of a lawyer or their aptitude for your case. Similarly, you might gain useful insights from talking to friends or family members who have hired a criminal lawyer, but the right fit for them may not be the right fit for you. Each case is unique. Here are certain guidelines that can help you knowledgeably research and compare attorneys.
Background and Experience
You should hire a lawyer who has substantial experience representing people who have faced charges similar to yours. Criminal law consists of many distinctive areas. For example, if you are facing a fraud charge, you should hire a lawyer who has handled many white collar crime cases. If you are facing federal drug trafficking charges, you should hire an attorney who is experienced in federal court. Some attorneys may have relevant board certifications or memberships in professional organizations. They may have received awards or other formal recognition of their legal prowess.
Some criminal lawyers worked as prosecutors before building a private practice. You should not assume that you will not be zealously represented as a criminal defendant just because your attorney once worked on the other side. To the contrary, prior experience as a prosecutor can be a significant advantage. A former prosecutor may have insights into how the prosecutor who charged you will be approaching your case. This can help them anticipate opposing strategies and counter them effectively.
Your attorney should be familiar 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. Also, testimony from police officers can play a key role in a criminal case. A local attorney may have encountered certain officers before and may know whether and how to attack their credibility as witnesses.
In general, you should aim to hire an attorney without a history of serious disciplinary issues. Information about an attorney’s professional record can be found by searching for them on the state bar website for their jurisdiction. You may want to review the details of any disciplinary action to get a sense of the events leading to it. Some violations are less significant than others. You may not want to automatically remove an attorney from your consideration based on a very minor infraction if they are currently in good standing.
On the other hand, a record of serious violations should be a red flag, even if the attorney has achieved some good results. You do not want your attorney to make an egregious mistake that prevents you from pursuing an otherwise viable defense strategy.
Reviews and Testimonials
Reviews by previous clients can give you a sense of what it would be like to work with an attorney. You may find insights into their personality, level of professionalism, and communication skills. Client reviews can be helpful even if the details of your case are different from a previous client’s case. However, beware of very brief reviews that are harshly negative or effusively positive without providing details. These reviews may not be trustworthy.
If an attorney has received favorable reviews from other attorneys, this may indicate that they have a strong reputation in the legal community. They may be more likely to be respected by judges and prosecutors, which can help resolve your case more favorably and efficiently.
Often, a criminal lawyer will discuss their most notable successes on their website or blog. Each case is decided on its own facts, so you should not assume that you will receive the same outcome as a previous client. However, a history of dismissals, acquittals, and reduced charges for people in roughly similar situations to yours can be a promising sign. You may also gain insight into the cases in which an attorney performs most impressively if many of their strongest results involve the same type of situation.
Most criminal lawyers offer consultations to prospective clients at minimal or no cost, and with no obligation to retain them. You can set up a consultation by phone or online after providing some initial details about your case. The consultation helps the client and the attorney decide whether they are the right fit for each other. Even if you are impressed by an attorney’s credentials and achievements, you should not choose them on that basis alone. Instead, you should make sure to work with a lawyer whom you can trust and who relates well to you. You should feel that your lawyer is personally invested in your case, rather than treating you as just another case number. Ideally, you should set up consultations with several attorneys before deciding whom to hire.
Bringing a list of questions to the consultation can help you decide whether an attorney is the right fit. For example, you may want to ask about the range of outcomes that they believe are likely in your case. You should not expect a precise answer, but a general impression can help set your expectations. An optimistic answer may be encouraging, but you should think twice if an attorney makes guarantees or seems much more confident than their competitors. They may be overpromising. Also, you should listen to how the attorney explains their evaluation. They should be able to articulate their reasoning in a way that is coherent and accessible to a non-lawyer.
Fees are another important issue to address at the consultation. Some criminal lawyers charge hourly fees, while others may charge a fixed fee for the entire case. If you are facing financial constraints, you may be able to negotiate a flexible payment plan. In many cases, an attorney will ask a client to pay a retainer fee, which is an upfront payment. If the costs of the case fall short of the retainer amount, the rest of the retainer fee may be refunded to the client. Any fee arrangement should be clearly set out in the representation agreement so that you understand your obligations.
Explore the Justia Lawyer Directory
The Justia Lawyer Directory is designed to simplify the process of researching, comparing, and contacting attorneys in your city, county, or state who fit your legal needs. Start exploring our listings of criminal lawyers near you today.
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