Most people come into a criminal defense lawyer's office because they seek to retain a lawyer or the lawyer was assigned to their case. Either way the initial contact is a good time to set things off on the right foot.
Bring a copy of your state recognized ID, passport, all of your papers dealing with your case, all phone numbers for alternate contacts(family, friends, work in case he must reach out in an emergency) to your meeting. If there is a consultation fee, offer it when you arrive. Pay cash unless he asks for a check. It is perfectly fine to request a receipt.
Remember Legal Aid & Assigned Counsel are usually the best lawyers in a courthouse. They are the busiest. Do not think that because you don't pay for the service, it must be bad.
Come with a list of questions you have about the case procedures & about his qualifications. Most Criminal Defense Lawyers can be ordered to court or be held there on a moment's notice so you may have to wait a while. Be patient!
What You Need To Do
You should call the lawyer and make an appointment. Unless told otherwise, make the appointment with his secretary. Like a doctor, few lawyers book their own calendars.
Ask the secretary if there is anything you need to bring with you. Some lawyers may ask you to write a timeline or a narrative about the case. try to type it or handwrite it very neatly. You will need the names and addresses of witnesses, the names and addresses of doctors, psychologists or psychotherapists and dates of participation etc.
Fines are often a part of a sentence, know what you can afford. Bring a bank statement and your paycheck voucher. Be as helpful as you can. Better to bring something and not need it, than to leave it and need it.
Make "friends" with the office staff (do not stalk them) they are indispensable in helping you get calls back, getting you copies and finding out information for you. Be good to staff.
Look, you may be the world's nicest guy. A regular Mother Theresa. But if you went out, got snookered and ran over a child, the fact that you have no record is not going to keep you out of jail. If you do avoid prison, kiss your lawyer. But remember, the lawyer is a not a fireman. He can only do so much. There are judges & prosecutors who also have their own agendas.
Good criminal defense is an expensive proposition. Do not be angry at the lawyer because he charges a lot of money and you are innocent. Your innocence actually makes his job harder and your problems are your own, not his. He has no obligation to take a case for free just because you think you are innocent.
Communication is a sticking point which I discuss below, needless to say, your lawyer isn't your therapist. He's not there to hold your hand. We try to be as empathetic as we can, but in the end, our job requires boundaries so that we act in your best interest and are not swayed by emotion. Anxious? Seek therapy.
Understand the Process
Criminal cases usually get better for defendants with age, but that adage is not always true. Having to deal with a case is harder for some defendants than with others. Furthermore, sometimes moving quickly can catch the other side off guard. Discuss the pace with your lawyer. Some like cases to move along leisurely others want it to end ASAP. Make sure his opinion is not colored by his profit margin. Usually lawyers earn more if they settle early especially in flat fee cases. Hourly retainers encourage longer amounts of time. That is why many lawyers and clients prefer Ala Carte retainers.
Additionally, understand that most lawyers have full trial calendars, and your case will begin in the back of that calendar. That can cause things to slow considerably.
Finally understand, most trial lawyers work in concert with clients but insist on handling the legal issues leaving you to decide whether to plead guilty, take a deal or go to trial. Be sure you are okay with that.
Most of us are deluged by phone calls, fax e-mails, snail mail, text messages and appointments. If the lawyer gives you his cell or home number, he is counting on your not calling him unless it is an emergency. Even your lawyer needs some time to consider things in the cases he has.
Ask your lawyer, "How do I best communicate with you?" Many lawyers will tell you how best to reach them.
When to reach out: ANYTIME it is an emergency, otherwise on a weekday afternoon as to avoid their cell phone's ringing while they are before a judge.Just remember to respect their family time.
Do not call for your next court date, he has between 50-100 clients and cannot remember each person's court date. Call the office and get the info from a secretary or in many jurisdictions off of a website. Do not call to ask the lawyer about the weather, or his opinion on a different matter (like the latest celebrity trial). Most importantly, remember he is no different than you and even he has bad days.
There are a number of ways legal fees can be structure. There is the Hourly, the Flat fee, and the Ala Carte retainer. The only forbidden retainer is a Contingency fee retainer. A Criminal Defense Lawyer cannot take a retainer based on outcome. It is a violation of Ethics rules.
You have a right to negotiate the type of retainer you have. Most clients cannot afford an hourly retainer. There the lawyer bills for every minute he works on the case. Flat fee retainers are for relatively easy matters (Traffic Violations, lesser charge cases such as misdemeanors). The more serious the charges the more it will cost.
Ala Carte retainers are great for a big case. Client pays an agreed upon, up front, fee to engage counsel, He then pays a small monthly flat fee for all letters, calls, etc. incurred that month (this ends when the case ends). There is a fee for writing motions or sentencing reports, and a daily fee to cover hearings & trial.
Insist on a written retainer.
The Keys to Working with your Criminal Defense Attorney
1.Come to the office with ID, a list of questions and his consultation fee in hand. Have an idea of how much you have to spend & be realistic with your goals.
2. Be clear about what kind of relationship you need: are you looking for an aggressive lawyer or a deal maker? Do you want someone who will hold your hand, or do you expect a grizzled trial attorney? Are you willing to jump through the hoops probation may entail?
3. Learn how your lawyer likes to communicate, figure out when the best time to call is, and learn what is and isn't important to talk to him about.
4. Get a written retainer and be sure he explains it to you so that you understand it.
5.Remember that your case is not the lawyer's only case. Do not waste his time.
6. Every lawsuit is like a walk on a rocky path. Your lawyer is like a pair of hiking boots, if it's a good fit it's still rocky but endurable, if the relationship pinches, it is going to feel like Hell.