WHAT IF I NEED A CRIMINAL ATTORNEY
Time is of the essence if you are facing criminal charges. Still, you want the best lawyer you can find. And you want someone who has experience defending others charged with the same crime as you. After getting one or two names of criminal defense lawyers near you, try to set up appointments to meet the lawyers. Many good lawyers are busy, so you may end up meeting with their staff. Dont eliminate them as possible candidates just because they are busy.
It is important you come to the meetings prepared. Some criminal defense attorneys will ask you to fill out a questionnaire before you meeting. Also, forward or bring any documents the lawyer has requested.
You should also bring several items that will help the criminal lawyer assess your case, including:
Any documents you received from the court showing your charges and next court appearance date
Your bail papers
If your property was searched, any paperwork the police gave you
A copy of the police report if possible
Criminal defense attorneys will also find it helpful if you can provide a list of any witnesses, victims, and other defendants. They need to verify that neither they nor anyone else in their office has ever represented any of the other parties. If one has, then that lawyer may not be able to represent you because of a conflict of interest.
You should also bring a list of questions to ask in an effort to decide whether to hire the lawyer. This article includes many suggestions. Feel free to pick and choose among them, adding questions of your own when needed. Also bring along a pen and some paper to record the answers and any notes you want to remember.
The Criminal Lawyer’s Background & Experience
When you first meet with a criminal lawyer, its important to find out if he or she has prior experience defending against similar charges. If you are charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, for example, you dont need a lawyer who primarily defends felony murder suspects. Some questions to ask include:
Where did you attend law school? When did you graduate?
How long have you been practicing criminal law?
How often do you appear in the courthouse where my case will be handled?
Do you frequently negotiate plea agreements with the prosecutors office? How would you describe your relationship with the prosecutors office?
How often do your clients go to trial?
How familiar are you with the charges against me? What percentage of your practice is in representing clients with similar charges?
Do you belong to any bar associations or other professional organizations? If so, which ones?
Assessment of Your Case
Whether you are charged with a crime in county, state, or federal court, youll want your criminal defense attorney to give you a good idea of whats to come. Some relevant questions to ask are:
What are my legal options? Would you recommend a guilty plea, a plea agreement, or a trial?
What aspects of my case work in my favor?
What potential problems do you foresee with my case?
What can I expect at the different stages of the process, including arraignment, filing of motions, motions hearing, disposition, and trial?
Case management is the term lawyers use to describe how a cases logistics are handled. Its important to know what goes on behind the scenes with your case, so that there are no misunderstandings. Relevant questions to ask include:
Are you available to represent me?
Will anyone else work on my case? May I meet them?
Will you be personally representing me in court, or will that responsibility go to someone else? If so, who?
If I have any questions, do I call you? Or someone else? If so, who?
How do you and your colleagues prefer to be contacted? How quickly can I expect a response?
Most criminal lawyers will either charge by the hour, also known as an hourly fee, or ask for a flat fee. Rates can be competitive, so it pays to shop around. However, lawyers with a good reputation may charge more. You need to decide whether it makes sense to pay more for a lawyer or a law firm with a great reputation given the charges against you.
Here are some questions you could ask about what you might owe in legal fees:
Do you charge an hourly rate or a flat fee?
If you charge by the hour, what is your rate? Will I have to pay a retainer fee? How will that work?
If you charge a flat fee, what is it? What does it include? What doesnt it include? Is it refundable? Do I have to pay it all up front?
What other expenses would I have to pay outside of your fee? Can you give me an estimate for them?
Hiring a Criminal Lawyer
After meeting with a criminal lawyer or two, its time to choose one. You may have only met with one but are confident that you found your attorney. Or, maybe you met with several, but one was clearly more qualified. Your decision, then, is an easy one.
But if youre having a tough time deciding, consider calling a few former clients. You want to talk to people who can speak to the lawyers skills. Would they recommend the lawyer? What did they like and dislike about the lawyer?
If you still cannott decide, its time to ask yourself a few questions:
Which attorney has the experience I need with the charges Im facing?
Which one offered advice I found most helpful?
In which one am I most confident?
Whose legal fees seemed reasonable?
The answers to these questions should lead you to the best criminal defense attorney to represent you.