Choosing a criminal defense attorney can be very difficult. You are already faced with an unfamiliar, highly stressful, situation and you need help, fast. Most people turn to trusted friends and family to get a recommendation for a criminal defense attorney. Others turn to the internet to conduct searches with the hopes of finding the right match. Sometimes, that works out just fine. Other times, you need to dig deeper to determine which attorney is the right fit for you and your case.
If you are charged with a crime and looking for the best criminal defense attorney to meet your needs, consider the following tips from an insider (that’s me). After working with, observing, overhearing, and collaborating with hundreds of criminal defense attorneys, I have learned that there are several traits that the very best criminal defense attorneys share in common. On the other hand, I have also observed that there are hundreds of average attorneys charging a hefty fee for very little work. It saddens me when I see this, particularly because there is a good person, a client who trusts this person with their future.
When your future and criminal history is at stake, here are a few questions you can take with you to interview your potential criminal defense attorney to help you make the right decision.
- How many cases have you personally tried? This is an extremely important question to ask the criminal defense attorney and you have to know the answer. There are several reasons for this. First, the primary job of a criminal defense attorney is to be able to defend the innocent accused and walk them out of the courtroom. This takes the ability to identify the best cases for trial and to try those cases and win. If the attorney has never tried a case or tried very few or tried cases with their more experienced partner, they will not try your case and they won’t know what to do if the case goes that far. Success at trial relies on a lot of experience and ability to think quickly and respond to novel arguments as they arise. Second, if the attorney has little trial experience, they may encourage you to enter a plea or explain your options in such a way that trial seems like the worst option even though it may be your best option. But, you won’t know that unless you have some insight into the attorney’s trial experience. Everyone has a number. And they know it by heart. If your attorney doesn’t know their number, move to the next candidate. Even if you feel that you don’t want to go to trial, having an attorney who can and will go to trial and can win will make a difference in the negotiation phase of your case. Prosecutors are smart. They know the criminal defense attorneys who never go to trial. So what motivation does the prosecutor have to provide an offer to that attorney to avoid a trial? Very little.
- Of the cases you have personally tried, what is your success rate? I define success at trial as a complete not-guilty or a result that is better than the plea bargain offered. An attorney who shies away from this question should give you pause. You have a right to know who you are hiring.
- Does the attorney have an open-book policy regarding their results? The best attorneys I know obtain consistently favorable results through litigation and trial. Is this just luck? No. It is a combination of experience, skill, perserverance, dynamic personality, creativity and the will to win. I have an open book policy and am proud of the results I have obtained for my clients through negotiation and in trial. I will gladly share my past results with you. The criminal defense attorney you are interviewing should be willing to do so too.
- Will you personally handle my case? This is a great question to ask of a criminal defense attorney who works for a larger firm. The last thing you want is to pay this criminal defense attorney a retainer and then never see them again because they have assigned your case to an associate with much less experience. I have personally observed clients yelling at young associates who are “covering” the case for their boss. In reality, the best case outcomes are obtained by one experienced criminal defense attorney handling the case from start to finish.
- Have you googled this criminal defense attorney? The internet gives you easy access to disciplinary actions and attorney reviews. Google em’ and see what you find.
- What is your fee? The range of quotes for a criminal case will undoubtedly vary. Cost is always a consideration. However, my best advice is to weigh the criminal defense attorney’s fee with their experience and past results. Note that an ethical attorney cannot guarantee you a result, so if someone promises that they will get your case dismissed, walk out.
- Do you like this person? Make sure you feel comfortable with the criminal defense attorney you hire. Are they friendly? Are they knowledgeable? Are they assertive, but also approachable? If you don’t like this person or feel that they are cold, the jury will feel that way too.
Above all else, do not rush to hire someone without doing any research. This is a very important decision that will affect your future. If your court date is approaching, you can always ask the court for a continuance to hire a criminal defense attorney and the court will grant your request every time.
If you would like to sit down with me, I welcome the opportunity to answer these questions for you and to discuss the facts and circumstances of your case.