Get over sticker shock
The truth is that you CAN'T afford a good criminal defense lawyer. It is not about affording anything. Affording something is the product of a budgetary process that has nothing to do with facing criminal charges. You can't afford not to hire a good lawyer.
Do the research in person
Once you have considered the advice of friends and relatives, websites like AVVO, and other sources, you must go and meet with as many lawyers as possible. Phone conversations do not cut it. You would never hire a surgeon sight unseen, why would you ever hire a criminal defense lawyer?
Separate the wheat from the chaff
Lawyers must sell themselves. Separate that from the lawyer's actual qualifications and talent. Past performance indicates future results. Find out how many cases like yours the lawyer has successfully handled. Evaluate for yourself: how talented is this man or woman? Will he or she meet the goals of the representation. Experience is good, but talent wins.
Understand the profit motive
All lawyers will make a profit. The sooner you come to terms with this, the better. If you understand that, you are ready to evaluate who should take your case. Consider this example: you are arrested for embezzlement at your job. You interview lawyers and narrow it down to two. Both are excellent. One will charge you $20K and the other $10K. Easy choice right? Maybe not. Both lawyers will earn a profit. If you understand that, then you understand that the $10K "bargain" lawyer will probably put only $7K of effort and resources into your case. Is that enough? Will that achieve the goals? Probably not. There, the "bargain" is an illusion. Remember, you always get what you pay for. The lawyer that takes the case for a few thousand less than the other guy will put in a few thousand less in effort. This will hurt you. Hire the lawyer with fewer, but more expensive cases and you will get the attention you need.
Ask for help
Once you have decided on a lawyer, decide how to pay for him or her. Ask your friends, family and others you trust for help. You many have to take out a loan or extend a line of credit. Be prepared to do this. Rarely can one afford a good lawyer on their own.