Police charged you with a crime. They probably told already you have a right to an attorney, and you likely already know you need is a criminal defense lawyer. Perhaps you even started researching criminal defense lawyers in your area. How do you know which one to choose?
Most criminal defense attorneys will provide a free case evaluation. This is when you can spend with an attorney, obtaining answers about the legal questions you have about your case and learning more about the services they can provide to assist you with your defense. This is also a good time to evaluate the attorney to determine if they are the right one to help you. Read on for five things to look for in a criminal defense lawyer, plus a bonus tip.
One of the most important skills that a good criminal defense attorney will bring to your case is to communicate verbally and in writing.
You need a lawyer with communication skills in nearly every facet of your case, including:
- Negotiating a plea deal with the prosecutor
- Interviewing witnesses
- Communicating the facts of your case to the court
You also need a lawyer to keep you updated on your case and inform you of any steps you need to take. Beware of an attorney who is challenging to get a hold of or who you feel is creating far more questions in your mind than answers. This could indicate that their communication skills are not enough to provide you with effective representation.
2. Familiarity With “How Things Are Done Around Here”
Some criminal defense attorneys cover cases across an entire state and more than one state may license others to practice law.
However, here’s why you may want to stay close to home when searching for an attorney:
- It is usually more affordable. A local attorney can meet with you while you are in jail, attend your court appearances, and conduct other work on your case without needing to travel to do so.
- They are familiar with local laws and how they pertain to your case.
- Experience. Local attorneys generally know the other individuals involved in your case, including the judge and the prosecutor. This knowledge can assist them greatly through all parts of the criminal court system, including negotiations and presenting your defense in court.
3. Experience With the Your Criminal Charges
Just as you would not trust an orthopedic surgeon to operate on your brain, you should also not trust an attorney whose experience with criminal defense lies primarily in traffic court to handle your defense in a murder trial. Instead, seek case evaluations with attorneys who specialize or have experience in defending clients who faced similar crimes as you. You can often learn about the types of cases an attorney prefers through their firm’s website or review websites.
4. They Can Provide References
Most people think nothing of the notion that they will have to provide references when seeking a job. These references are familiar with your work and can provide a glimpse of the type of employee you will be. However, people looking to hire a criminal defense lawyer are often unaware that they can ask attorneys for references. An experienced attorney will have satisfied clients who will share their experience working with the attorney. You should be able to receive references from at least three former clients whose cases were similar to yours.
5. They Have a Clear Fee Structure
Personal injury lawyers can take cases on a contingent-fee billing method, which bases their payment on the case’s outcome. However, criminal defense attorneys cannot take cases on a contingent-fee basis. Instead, they often require a retainer to begin their work on the case and then charge for their services on an hourly basis. Certain cases can also provide for a flat-fee arrangement in which the cost of representing you is determined by agreement before the case begins.
While either an hourly rate or a flat fee is acceptable, the attorney should be upfront about the costs of their services. They should explain their fee structure to you in a way that you understand and provide it to you in writing to refer to as the need arises.
Bonus Tip: Trust Your Gut (or, More Accurately, Your Brain)
You want an attorney who is confident in their ability to provide you with the best defense possible. You want an attorney who is excited to help you and who has a grounding in the law and experience in the criminal defense process to do so. How do you know?
Many clients say they have a “gut feeling” during the case evaluation that helps them determine if the attorney they are speaking with is the right one for the job. Gut feelings actually originate in the brain, not the gut, and they are not feelings as much as predictions based on experience. Even if you never talked with a criminal defense attorney before, much less hired one, you can gauge a lot not only by how the attorney speaks with you and provides information but also by how you feel when they give you this information.
Your attorney will be a very important person in your life during the criminal court process. Make sure it is someone you feel comfortable talking to and representing you.
Charged With a Crime? Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney
The number of people charged with crimes in the U.S. has rapidly increased in recent years. More than 90,000 defendants face charges every year in U.S. district courts across the U.S., with additional defendants appearing in state or municipal courts. If prosecutors charge you with a crime, let an experienced criminal defense attorney help you understand your options.