Start asking your friends and family if they know any criminal defense attorneys. Talk to the person who was represented by the attorney and ask what their personal experience was - Did the lawyer answer all of the questions that were asked of him? Was the lawyer responsive to phone calls and emails? What was the outcome on the case? And even if the outcome was not positive, did it appear that the lawyer did all they could do?
Search the internet
Whether you've gotten a referral from a friend, or whether your search for an attorney begins on the internet, the world wide web provides a wealth of information about a prospective attorney. There are numerous websites (such as Avvo.com) where lawyers provide profiles, and clients and colleagues provide recommendations or endorsements. These websites are very helpful because they allow you to compare attorneys and provide ways to contact and learn more about each one.
Most attorneys have their own websites where they provide more detailed background information about themselves, such as their individual philosophy, experience and case results. Take time to read through these websites to give yourself more of an idea of what this particular attorney is about.
After you've looked up the personal referrals from friends or found some attorneys on the internet, make a list of 2 or 3 attorneys you would like to call or email.
Make some phone calls or send some emails
Many attorneys offer free consultations over the phone, in person or via email. Take that list of attorneys you've made &start contacting them. Spend some time on the phone with them-tell them about your case & your situation. If you're emailing them, see how long it takes them to respond & how detailed their response is. Have they handled this type of case before? They can't give you any specific legal advice since they don't have all the information, but they can tell you some general things about your case, such as what your facing, jail time, etc. By the end of the conversation, you should have a general feeling of whether you feel comfortable with this attorney. After all, you may have to tell your attorney some very personal & perhaps embarrassing information (depending on the nature of your case), & if you don't feel comfortable with them, you're less likely to communicate with them. Communication is key to an good attorney/client relationship.
Look them up on your State Bar website
Most, if not all State Bar websites have a database where you can search for individual attorneys. Look up their records - Do they have complaints filed against them? Have they been disciplined by the state bar? Are they on probation? You may not want to hire an attorney who has been disciplined by the state bar.
Meet them in person
After you've made the phone calls and narrowed it down to which attorney you feel the most comfortable with, meet with them in person. You can tell a lot about a person just by looking into their eyes. Sounds cheesy, but it is definitely true.
Beware! Things to watch out for.
Some attorneys know that you are stressed out and scared and take advantage of that. Some will promise you results such as dismissals, or non-jail offers in order to get you to hire them. Beware of this - no attorney can promise certain results. The outcomes of criminal defense cases can be very difficult to predict. The ONLY thing an ethical, honest attorney can promise you, is hard work.
Also beware the pitfalls of price - don't price shop - price isn't everything. More expensive doesn't necessarily mean better, and cheaper doesn't always mean you're getting a great deal. If the retainer fee is too low, you can expect that attorney has to take more clients and you may not get the personalized attention you deserve. If the retainer fee is very high, look at the the individual attorneys in the firm and see what their experience is. If they don't have much experience, why are their fees so high? Have they done trials? What kinds of cases do they handle?