April 12, 2014
During my time practicing criminal defense, I have had a number of consultations with people who have no idea how to decide what defense attorney will best serve their needs. This post will give you a few “pointers” on how to choose a criminal defense attorney who will best suit you, should you ever have the misfortune of needing one. I should note that these individual factors should be considered as a whole when one is choosing the attorney that best suits their needs.
How many attorneys should I consult with?
I believe anyone facing criminal charges should consult with at least three attorneys. This gives you a good idea of what you are facing with the charges, and three price quotes to compare.
Money is a large factor to most people looking to hire a criminal defense attorney. I have found two prominent views on fees quoted by attorneys to potential clients:
1. “That attorney quoted much more than any other attorney I’ve consulted with, he/she must be better than the others!”
2. “That attorney quoted much less than any other attorney I’ve consulted with, I must be getting a great deal!”
Both of these views are usually false. Regarding the first view, an attorney should charge you what a case is worth, not the amount of money the attorney believes he/she can get out of you. An attorney should take into account the seriousness of the charge(s), the amount of time he/she will have to spend on the case, whether the case involves a new or innovative question of law, the amount of experience he/she has handling the type of case, etc, when quoting you a price for legal services. About the second view, an attorney is much like any other service you buy – you should get what you’re paying for. I am not saying that an attorney that charges more than others, or an attorney that charges less than others, will do a better, or worse, job on your case than another attorney. What I am saying is if you pay an attorney any amount of money, you should have certain expectations, which include having your phone calls returned in a timely manner, the actual attorney you hired appearing at the majority of your court settings, and receiving updates on your case whenever something new arises. Optimally, these are expectations every person should have of any attorney they hire, but, sadly, this is not always the case. Many times, those that hire an attorney based on the lowest bidder find that they do not receive the individual attention they feel they, or many times their case deserves.
Even if you tell an attorney you just want to plead to the charges, a good attorney will read through all the reports in your case before negotiating with the prosecuting attorney, and before advising you of the route he/she believes you should take.
Most people with criminal charges are facing the possibility of losing their freedom for some period of time. This is not something to be taken lightly, which is why it is very important you feel comfortable with the attorney defending you.
When I was trying to decide what college to attend for my undergraduate studies, I was given a great bit of advice that applies to deciding which attorney is right for you. I was told that you will know when you have found the school that is right for you because you will get a “gut feeling” that “this is the place for me.” Based on the “gut feeling” I got after touring the school, I chose to attend the University of Oklahoma, and have never regretted my decision. Like choosing a college, when choosing an attorney, you should have a “gut feeling” after consulting with the individual whether he/she is the right attorney for you.
It is important that the attorney you choose has the experience to know how your case should be handled. This does not mean that a young attorney, such as myself, lacks the experience and knowledge to handle serious charges, but he/she needs to have experience handling your specific charge, or needs to consult with/bring into the case an attorney with experience in handling your charge.
This is an issue I hear about endlessly from potential clients with whom I am consulting. When asked what I think will be the outcome in a potential client’s case, I often hear, “well X promised me he/she could get my case dismissed,” or something along that line. No attorney can ethically promise you any outcome in your case! An ethical attorney will give you his/her opinion of what he/she believes the outcome of your case will be, but will also tell you that he/she cannot make you any promises.
Here is a tip – If an attorney makes a promise to you regarding the outcome of your case, ask the attorney to put the promise in writing! I will bet that at least nine times out of ten the attorney will refuse to do so.
Bad-Mouthing Other Attorneys
Beware of an attorney that speaks ill of other attorneys with whom you have consulted. More often than not, an attorney that talks badly about another attorney’s skills, experience, etc. is merely doing so to sway you from hiring that attorney, and trying to convince you to hire him/her. Who you hire is your choice, and should not be influenced by the “trash talk” of attorneys competing for your business.
I hope this post is helpful to those of you looking for some guidance when hiring a criminal defense attorney. As always, if you have further questions regarding this topic, please post your inquiry and I will do my best to answer it. If you have a suggestion for next week’s topic, let me know!