DO have an in-person consultation with the attorney(s) you're considering.
When you hire an attorney, you are purchasing his/her experience and expertise, along with his/her time and attention to your case. Your initial consultation should be like a job interview - for the lawyer. While you shouldn't expect the attorney to give you much legal advice during the initial consultation (at least, until you've hired him/her), you should expect the attorney to have a good understanding of the elements of the offense with which you're charged, a grasp of the relevant case law (court opinions) on the subject, and the ability to immediately identify some strengths and weaknesses in your case. This consultation is your opportunity to determine the attorney's level of expertise and professionalism, and whether you're a good "fit" in an attorney/client relationship. During the first consultation, I am trying to earn a prospective client's business. The time and attention you get at that meeting is reflective of what you'll get in the future.
DO look for an attorney you trust to give you good advice, and not just tell you what you want to hear.
A good criminal defense attorney will give you the good news and the bad news, and help you understand the importance and impact of both. You should hire an attorney who you trust to give you the information and advice that you need to make good choices about your case. This is YOUR life, and YOUR criminal history. You want to make sure that you are making the right investment.
If you are hiring an attorney who is part of a firm, DO ask to meet all of the attorneys/staff who might appear or be associated with your case.
Imagine hiring the most expensive, experienced, celebrated attorney in town. And then imagine showing up for every court setting, only to see her junior associate dealing with your case. Sometimes its unavoidable. Ms. Bigshot may be in a capital murder trial or sick with the flu. And, that junior associate may be the firm's expert on certain types of cases and even better qualified to handle your case. Or, you could have paid big money to spend the next year of your life talking to legal assistants and underlings. Whichever one it is, you deserve to know exactly who you're hiring when you pay your fee, and to have faith in the person who is handling your case on a day-to-day basis.
DON'T be taken in by guarantees of a dismissal or acquittal.
All criminal cases are highly fact specific, and each one has dozens of working parts and issues. Sometimes, what might seem like a great case in the initial consultation takes an unfortunate turn when a client doesn't know about particularly damning evidence or doesn't remember a critical detail. Moreover, in most jurisdictions, the ethical rules that attorneys must follow prohibit us from making a guarantee of a specific outcome to prospective clients. If an attorney is willing to promise you that they can make your case go away for a specific amount of money, be forewarned.
DON'T be afraid to shop around.
Competent, confident attorneys don't mind when you let us know you've met with another attorney or are considering other candidates for the job. We think that makes you a smart consumer, and find it reassuring that you're putting some time and effort into making sure you hire the right person. Also, it gives me an opportunity to differentiate myself from my competitors and help determine whether I think you are a good fit as one of my clients. Not everyone who walks in the door is someone I want as a client, not because of who they are or what they're charged with, but because I don't think we'll work well together. Occasionally, a client will try to take advantage of our competitive spirits, trying to pit us against each other in an attempt to bargain for lower fees or get some free advice. It's part of the job, and we deal with it, but if that's your goal, expect to get shut down pretty quickly.
DON'T be afraid to tell us what you want, but DON'T lie, exaggerrate, or leave things out in order to get us to say we can get it.
We're here to give you advice and counsel. If we don't know what you want, we might skip over the issues that are important to YOU, or advise you in a way that doesn't accomplish your ultimate goal. For some people, a win is a plea bargain with probation, even if they've got a great case. Some clients would rather lose at trial then plead guilty, no matter how guilty they might be. Some clients have an end goal that is related to a pending divorce, an immigration issue, or employment related concerns. In order to give you a complete, thorough case evaluation, I have to know the good, the bad and the ugly. I am never more disappointed then to learn that a client has not given me a critical fact, even if it's out of embarassment or fear. In order for an attorney to really evaluate your case, he/she has to know what really happened, not just what you think we want to hear.