If you or a loved one have been arrested for a crime, then your whole world has been turned upside down. A majority of people do not know what to do or where to turn. You know you need an attorney but how do you choose one? It is important that you choose the right attorney for the case. You need to make sure that you and the attorney you choose are on the same page with the same goals in mind. Most importantly, you need an attorney you can trust to accomplish your goals and handle your case. The following is a list of things to think about when trying to find the right attorney to handle the case.
1) Talk to several attorneys
When choosing an attorney, make sure that you talk to a few attorneys. It is easy for an attorney to tell you what they think you want to hear. This is probably a new situation for you, so how do you know what to believe or not? You need to compare what the attorneys are telling you to know what to believe.
Beyond that, you need to make sure you like the attorney you hire. You have to trust them. You have to know that they have your best interest in mind. Talking to several will ensure that you end up with the one you really want, and not just the first one you talked to. You can always call back and hire the first attorney after you talk to others. If an attorney pressures you into signing right then and there, do not trust that person. They see dollar signs, not you. Most competent attorneys will tell you to talk to others. This is because they know that this is an important decision for you.
2 Don’t go for the cheapest option because it’s cheap
If you’ve been arrested, then you’ve also received what we lawyers call “jail mail". Most private attorneys do not like jail mail. We do not engage in jail mail tactics. Some lawyers pay to get lists of people who have been arrested. They then send letters, flyers, postcards to the addresses listed. This is bad for many reasons. First, maybe you don’t want to tell your family you’ve been arrested. Maybe it’s embarrassing to you and you wanted to handle it privately. Kiss that goodbye when you start getting all the flyers from these lawyers.
Second, these lawyers tend to be “defendant mills". They take on cases for low costs and then sub out your case to appearance attorneys. The attorney you hire will never step foot in a classroom on your case. They’ll pay a local attorney a few bucks to continue the case a few times and then plead you out.
It’s usually better to go with a public defender over an attorney who is so cheap that it’s too good to be true. You want to make sure that your case is getting the attention it deserves. Some attorneys will offer specials and deals. These are not necessarily bad. Just make sure the attorney is actually going to have time for you.
3) Don’t go for the most expensive option because it’s expensive
Many expensive attorneys are experienced and heavy hitters. They are well-known and well-respected. They handle many high profile cases. They are good at their job. Seems worth the money, right? Well, maybe. Just like any other lawyer, you need to talk to the lawyer and find out who is handling your case. You don’t want to pay all the money only to find out that the great lawyer is handing your case off to a junior associate. Why pay big name prices for a low level associate? If the attorney promises to handle your case personally, make sure that he or she has the time for you and isn’t too busy with other cases.
4) Make sure the attorney you speak with handles your case
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. Make sure that the person you speak with is the one who handles your case. Don’t worry that you’re going to offend someone because you ask them that. You have a right to know who the person handling your case will be. Your rights and freedom are at risk. You have a right to be involved and make decisions. Choosing the right lawyer is your first big decision. Many large firms will hand your case off to junior associates. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just make sure you know the person and like them. Some firms will send “deal makers" to meet with you to sign the paperwork. Often these people are not attorneys. You then have no clue who is handling your case. Your case will be passed around until the firm has all their money and they plead you out. Make sure you talk to your attorney. Some of us even give clients our cell phone numbers. This ensures that you have constant contact to your attorney and know exactly what’s going on.
5) Ask family and friends for referrals
If you have family or friends who can refer an attorney to you, then this is a great option! Use it! People only refer those who are worth referring. If they had a bad experience, they’re not going to refer the attorney. If they have heard terrible things, they will not refer the attorney. They will warn you to steer clear of that person. I love hearing that a new client came to me as a referral from someone else. It means that they were happy with my work. I strive for client satisfaction.
6) Ask other attorneys for referrals
Maybe you don’t know a criminal defense attorney, but you do know a personal injury lawyer. Ask that person if he or she knows a criminal defense attorney. We all belong to the same associations. We all attend the same seminars and functions. We get to know these other attorneys as people outside of their work, which helps with a well-rounded recommendation. If nothing else, it’s a jumping off point.
Another way is if you know a criminal defense attorney in another area from where your charge is. Say you’re originally from Los Angeles, but you pick up a charge in Sacramento. Ask your friend in LA if they know of anyone in Sacramento. Attorneys are great networkers and are almost always able to give you a name in another county or even state.
7) Look at client comments online
There are so many different places online where clients can leave feedback and comments. Look there. See what kind of client reviews there are. Look at the attorneys websites to see client feedback or success stories and victories. Attorneys love to brag about their successes. And clients sometimes leave feedback when they’re happy with the outcome. They also leave feedback when an attorney does something bad. This is all good research for forming an opinion.
8) Trust your gut
Many times you will either like or dislike a person upon meeting that. Trust the gut. If you meet a well-known lawyer but just aren’t sure about that person, trust them. If you meet a lawyer with less of a reputation, but you think they’re really going to help you, trust that. If you don’t think the attorney is going to do a good job, trust that. You don’t want to second guess your decision while you’re sitting in jail because the attorney didn’t do a good enough job.
9) Don’t wait until the last minute
You get released from jail on bail and you see that you don’t have your arraignment for two months. Don’t wait for one month and 27 days to find the attorney. Start calling around immediately. Start making appointments or have phone consultations. Do not put it off until it’s too late. You don’t want to make a bad decision on a lawyer because you’re out of time.
10) Location of the attorney
I have heard two things which do not matter when choosing an attorney: 1) Choose an attorney who is located outside of the area; 2) Choose an attorney who is located in the area. These obviously are conflicting, and honestly do not matter. If you live in Orange County, but like a lawyer in Los Angeles County who promises to handle your case personally, hire that person. Make sure the attorney is the one who will be handling your case, and not handing your case off to an appearance attorney. If you hire a firm with multiple locations, then make sure that you know which associate at which location is handling your case. That is all that matters. Many of us travel to courts all over for cases. It is not uncommon for a lawyer in Southern California to cover every court in every county in Southern California. Again, just make sure the attorney promises to handle your case personally.
Or, if you’re in Riverside County but have heard that it’s unwise to hire a lawyer within the same county, don’t believe that. Attorneys who practice mainly in one location are not more likely to be friends with the deputy district attorneys or cops, as is the worry about a local attorney. They may be friendly, but not in a way that will harm your case. And if they are, then do not hire that person. Go to a different attorney.
Your concerns should be more focused on hiring the best attorney for your case regardless of anything else. You need to worry about the person handling your case overall.
Criminal Defense Attorney