Referrals are the best place to start. If you know anyone who has been arrested, talk to them about who they used and what their experience was like. You may end up with the name of an attorney you want to interview--or one you want to steer clear of. You may get letters in the mail from attorneys who purchase the "jail list" from the county. Read through them. Many good attorneys advertise this way.
Whether you get an attorney's name from a referral or an ad, research them online. There is no attorney you won't find at least some basic information about. You might find reviews from former clients, articles they have written, or accolades they have received. You might simply search for criminal defense lawyers in your county and find someone you hadn't considered before.
Make a list of your top choices and choose at least three to interview. You should NOT have to pay for a consultation. No successful attorney makes their living off of consultation fees.
How to Interview an Attorney
Ask them what areas of law they practice. Unless you are in a small county, you want a lawyer who limits his practice to criminal cases. This means they are up on the current laws and are familiar with the DA's and judges at the criminal court. Ask them when the last time they went to trial was. Although the vast majority of cases work out without ever going to trial, sometimes trial is the only option. What you don't want is an attorney who NEVER goes to trial. Not only are these attorneys not zealous advocates but the DA's know they can run all over them.
Give the attorney an overview of your case and ask them how they would handle it. They should have a general idea what issues need to be examined more closely; they should be able to discuss possible outcomes; and they should be able to tell you about the jduge in your court and the DA assigned to your case. These are all important aspects of your case that will contribute to how it gets resolved.
Don't Be Afraid to Discuss Fees
Fees are an important consideration for every client, and attorneys' fees vary greatly. Do not overcommit to an attorney you cannot afford but don't hire the cheapest guy out there either. Keeping talking to attorneys until you find one in your price range.
If you get your heart set on an attorney who's out of your price range, ask about payment options. Many attorneys allow you to pay out their fee while they're working your case. Some accept credit cards, and some will reduce their fees in special circumstances. Many of us also stair-step our fees based on the services needed (one fee for all pretrial issues and a second fee if the case proceeds to trial, for example).
Do not hire any attorney that will not put your fee agreement in writing. This protects you from attorneys changing their fees or saying certain services were not part of the original fee agreement.
Follow Your Instincts
Ultimately, choosing an attorney is a very personal decision. Although time is of the essence, don't hesitate to meet with lawyers until you find the person who's right for you. After spending time with the attorney, ask yourself if this is someone you want working for you. Do they seem to be genuinely concerned about your case? Do they have the experience necessary to do the best job for you? If you don't like the attorney as a person, the DA's and judges probably don't like him either. This is not the person you want in charge of your fate. You are placing a great deal of faith in the person you hire, and you need to know that they will work their hardest for you.
Additional resources provided by the author
You can look up the Bar Association in your state to see if an attorney has any disciplinary history.
Avvo is a great site for reviewing attorneys' credentials and reading client reviews.
More information on Choosing the Right Attorney can be found on my website through the link below.