Face to Face: Will the Lawyer Meet with You in Person?
When you call the lawyer's office, or submit a request through the lawyer's website, ask to set up an appointment to discuss your case. Many lawyers provide a free consultation. She will ask you some questions, talk about what may happen in your case and what options you have. This is also the time to discuss attorney fees. If you don't have time or otherwise can't meet with the lawyer, try to set up a telephone consultation so that you can ask all the questions you would at an in-person meeting. An in-person consultation is best, however. Would you feel comfortable buying a car over the phone? If not, why would you hire a lawyer over the phone?
Be Prepared! Getting the Most from a Free Consultation
You expect your lawyer to be prepared when she shows up to court for you. Similarly, you should be prepared and be on time. Remember, the lawyer is giving you something that people usually pay for -- time. Don't waste it. The lawyer may not be able to give you a full consultation if you don't bother to show up on time. Be courteous and call if you will be unavoidably late. Make sure to bring any documentation related to your case that you have. This may include the notice to appear, complaint, citation, police report, and DMV documents in a DUI case. Also, write down your questions beforehand. Having your questions in writing will help you remember them, and will help you compare answers from different lawyers you meet with.
You charge what?!?! Dealing with Legal Fees
Many people are shocked when they learn what lawyers charge, but you should think about what those fees include. You are not just paying for the lawyer's time, you are also paying for her experience, resources and knowledge. You're paying her to make sure she has time to spend on your case. If a lawyer's fee seems high, ask about it. There may be some issues in your case that will take a great deal of time. Also ask about a payment plan if you need one. Many lawyers will work with you so that you can afford quality representation. The lawyer you hire should provide you with a printed fee agreement that states specifically what is included in her representation and what you are required to pay. Remember investigator and witness fees are usually not included and you may have to pay a separate deposit for these services. Be prepared to make a payment at the consultation. If you wait to pay for representation, she may take on other cases and not be able to take yours.
Factory Representation: Who's My Lawyer?
Sometimes a person will hire a lawyer, only to later discover that the lawyer they thought they were getting passed their case off to another "associate" in the firm. Othertimes a person discovers that the bulk of the work in their case is being done by a paralegal. Some people prefer a large firm's representation. Others prefer a small firm or solo practitioner. Either way, before you hire a lawyer, find out who will be representing you. That is, who will be showing up to court with you, writing motions, and taking your telephone calls. This will help you make an informed decision about whether a firm is right for you, and help you avoid frustration later on down the road.
Warm & Fuzzy: Being Comfortable is Key
Going through a criminal case with a lawyer you aren't comfortable with can feel like taking a road trip in a pair of jeans that are two sizes too small - from uncomfortable to downright painful. If you don't have a good working relationship with the person who is advocating for you, it can be a long, bumpy ride.
This is one more reason to meet with the lawyer before agreeing to hire her. If you can avoid it, don't show up to court and hand the lawyer a check while shaking hands for the first time, a meeting will give you an idea of the lawyer's style and personality, and whether this is someone that you want representing you. This, of course, requires that you start looking for a lawyer immediately upon learning of the charges or investigation - do not wait until the day before court!
With a little time and energy, you will be able to find a lawyer who is right for you and your defense.