WHAT TO DO BEFORE TALKING TO A CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY AND WHAT TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN YOU DO TALK

Posted over 2 years ago. Applies to Pennsylvania, 1 helpful vote

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1

Why are you contacting an attorney?

Is this a criminal matter? Have you been charged yet? Are you only under investigation? Is this an old matter or something that just happened? Is this tied into a previous matter, such as a case for which you are currently on probation, or a PFA? The more organized info you have when you call or meet with an attorney will allow him or her to understand the big picture. Incomplete information creates miscommunication that can only limit your attorney's ability to assist you. Knowing your record, the exact nature of your charges, who is involved (officer, judge, probation officer, etc.) will give your attorney the cast of characters he or she will need to know in detail.

2

What kind of an attorney do you want?

Are you shopping for the attorney who will simply give you the cheapest price? Are you looking for someone who will fight tooth and nail every step of the way to trial? Are you looking for someone who can mitigate a bad situation and get you the best "deal?" Do you need someone to handle only a criminal matter, or someone who can handle a criminal matter as well as other non-criminal legal issues out of the same incident(s)? You should be straightforward with any attorney you are looking to hire about what you desire, and you should know what you want going in. You should get honest answers and not be afraid to talk to multiple attorneys if you are not 100% comfortable with who you initially consult with. Communication is key.

3

Use the internet...to an extent

The internet is a great tool and there's a wealth of info at your fingertips. Researching lawyers online is wise. Researching your specific situation can be wise...to a point. No two cases are ever the same. There are so many factors in any given case that you should never think that your situation is going to be handled or resolved the same as something you read online. Local rules and attitudes can color a situation significantly. Your county may not dismiss a specific charge while the county next door will. Policies vary all over the state, and there are always various ways for an attorney to address the same issue. There's no substitute for meeting with an attorney in person and really sorting out all of the details to get a sense of the big picture and exactly what can be done. Going into a consultation with a goal is ideal. But you shouldn't think an attorney is wrong just because he or she tells you something different than what you read online.

4

Attorneys - internet and reality

There are plenty of attorneys who have very a great internet presence with impressive websites and in-your-face marketing that creates a larger than life persona. There are also attorneys that don't even have websites. You should never decide whether or not an attorney may not be good simply by how their website or blog looks. How they consult with you when you call their office, how quickly they schedule you for a consult, how they return phone calls, how they treat you when you walk in the door, how much time they will spend when you sit down with them, how sharp they are on the law and how interested they appear in your situation...these are all things that no website can make up for. The real test is from reality - reputation, credentials, and how they treat and care for you. Whether it is ad in the yellow pages, a TV commerical, website, or blog, these things can't replace the real interaction you have with an attorney where you can truly gauge them as people.

5

Your time and the attorney's time

While you are certainly busy, so is the attorney you are talking with. While most attorneys will offer consultations for a minimal fee or even for free, you must keep in mind that the goal for the attorney is to get the maximum amount of information about you and your situation in the minimum amount of time. Although any attorney should be sympathetic to the stress, anxiety, and confusion you may be feeling, you have to allow them to get down to specifics so that they can assess your situation. Be mindful of providing way too much background info, or going off into something irrelevant that won't help the attorney with your current situation. If you have paperwork, have it organized. If you have information to provide, have it ready. If you have questions, have them prepared. The attorney will realize that you are someone they can easily work with and can thus spend time truly helping you and your situation, and not having to worry about keeping you on task.

6

Time is of the essence

Many things can happen quickly at the onset of a criminal case. If you are seeking representation, do it quickly. If the attorney you hire needs character letters, background documentation, witness contacts, etc., get it quickly. By the same token, try to be mindful that the attorney representing you does have other cases. If you hired the right attorney, they should be on the ball, keeping you informed, and moving things along to help improve your situation. But there will still be time periods where there is simply no news or your attorney is tied up with other matters. If you feel like your case is being neglected, bring it to your attorney's attention immediately. But if you hired the right attorney, you should always be confident that he or she is working for you every step of the way.

7

Counselor and "Counselor"

Dealing with criminal charges is stressful. Sometimes you will just want to vent or complain. There may be other drama that results from criminal charges, such as strains in relationships, work or school stress, money issues, or transportation problems. You may find that your criminal defense lawyer is the only one who seems to be on top of things for you and trying to improve your situation. While keeping your attorney informed of things going on, resist the temptation to turn them into a guidance counselor. Some lawyers simply will tell you they weren't hired to be your therapist, while others will kindly endure it. Don't take advantage. Recognize that a criminal defense attorney is trying to focus on the factual and legal issues related to your criminal charges and is dealing with a lot of information. If you are constantly calling them or emailing them and it isn't necessary, you are only creating a burden on them that won't improve your situation.

8

Respect

While respect should be earned, most lawyers still feel that as professionals they are at least deserving of a little bit of a down payment up front in the respect department. You'd be amazed at what a little respect towards at attorney you are calling or meeting with can do for the relationship you may ultimately have with him or her. Of course, if you aren't getting the same respect in return then clearly they haven't held up their end of the bargain. Lawyers as professionals are often the butt of many jokes and disrespect, and people have come to expect lawyers to be disingenuous or greedy or downright slimey. Going into any communication with a potential lawyer with any sort of attitude simply creates a weird and unnecessary atmosphere for the attorney who is genuine, hard-working and honest and only looking to help you the best he or she can.

Additional Resources

Brian C. Jordan, Criminal Defense Attorney with Cramer, Swetz & McManus, P.C. in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania (Monroe County)

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