Tips on Finding and Choosing a Criminal Defense Attorney
There are ads for criminal lawyers on buses, taxis, in newspapers, and on the internet. Your husband has been arrested and is locked up in the local jail. Perhaps the charge is driving under the influence, or maybe it’s theft, or perhaps even assault. All you know at that point is that your husband needs a criminal defense lawyer. It is important to know that he needs not just any attorney, but a lawyer who concentrates on criminal cases. You would never want your internist to do your heart surgery and you definitely do not want an attorney who represented one criminal defendant last year to represent your loved one. Below are some helpful tips.
General Tips for Finding an Attorney:
1. Many Bar Associations have lawyer referral services. The attorneys are designated by category and pay to be listed.
2. There are numerous private lawyer referral services. The attorneys are designated by category and pay to be listed.
3. You can ask a friend or colleague who used a criminal lawyer in the past for a recommendation.
4. Ask an attorney friend, who would he pick to be his lawyer in a criminal case.
General Tips for Choosing a Lawyer:
1. Check the lawyer’s website for the areas of law handled by the attorney. Does the attorney concentrate in criminal law or does he handle many different legal areas.
2. Beware of lawyers who guarantee results. It is improper for an attorney to make such a promise and common sense dictates that the only guarantees in life are death and taxes.
3. Interview several attorneys. Inquire how many criminal jury trials and criminal non-jury trials has he or she tried. Find out if the attorney has tried criminal cases in your jurisdiction.
4. Check your state bar website to see if the attorney is certified as a criminal law specialist in your jurisdiction. Some states do not certify attorneys as specialists.
5. Depending on income requirements, your family member may qualify for a public defender. There are many excellent public defenders, but keep in mind that many have heavy case loads.
6. Discuss fees with the attorney. Attorneys cannot charge contingency fees in criminal cases. Find out the attorney’s hourly rate or will the fee be a flat charge. The retainer agreement should always be in writing – not verbal.
7. Talk to the attorney during the interview and see if you are comfortable with him or her. Does the attorney actually listen to you?
There are many factors to consider when finding and selecting a criminal lawyer. The above are a few of the considerations that are important to this major decision.
Thank you for the article. Question: “Many Bar Associations have lawyer referral services” – how do you find the information from bar associations? I live in New Jersey – how would I find this info?
For information about Bar Association’s lawyer referral services, click this link.
Tip 2 is a really good reminder: don’t trust attorneys who GUARANTEE results. If a lawyer (or doctor, for that matter) speaks in certainties you should know to be suspicious!!
My sister does not have money for a lawyer. What can she do?
Your sister can contact her local public defender’s office to see if she qualifies for an attorney.
By Michael–I agree with most of what was written in terms of guidelines in choosing a criminal defense attorney. However the notion that a designation of “specialist” really means much is simply not accurate. All anyone has to do is take a test and pay some money to be able to say they are a “specialist”. It is not something that is conferred on an individual as a result of a tremendous track record. What is better advice is to find someone who practices criminal law exclusively and has for some time. It is my experience that as the economy… Read more »
By Michael–I wouldn’t so quickly discount the value of a specialist designation nor suggest that it is a paramount factor. Rather, becoming board certified is a baseline that requires a minimum of years in which a significant part of the attorney’s practice involves the specialty area, a peer review evaluation by judges and practitioners in the community familiar with the attorney’s ethics and skills, and then passing a proficiency examination. Afterwards, the attorney needs to get recertified every five years by indicating a continued involvement in the area and peer approval. All that being said, there are lots of very… Read more »
By Brian–As a former defendant turned prosecutor then defense lawyer I know first hand what it is like to put your life into the hands of a lawyer. Beware! I used to have a sign in my law office that said “The more I get to know my fellow lawyers the more I love my dog.” There are some great lawyers out there. But there are many who are more interested in their bank accounts than your freedom.
By Bernadette–Excellent advice but sadly most people do not have the time to do all that!
I also check lawyer’s client reviews on http://www.avvo.com
There are two different types of reerfences that employers will ask for: professional and personal. For the professional, they will want ref’s from people that can “vouch” for your character; someone from a previous employer, etc ..perhaps some of your clients would provide ref’s for you ( that should be acceptable, despite what you think ). Personal ref’s can be neighbors, members of the Church, etc, etc
I agree with what you said that it’s important to discuss the fees of the criminal defense attorney you plan on hiring to ensure you could afford their service. Tim, my friend, would benefit from this advice since he was recently charged with drug possession. I’m seeing him tomorrow, so I will pass on your tips to him. Thank you for this!