How to Choose a Criminal Defense Attorney
After you've been arrested or otherwise charged with a crime, a million thoughts and emotions are usually racing through your mind. You know you need an attorney, but there are just so many to choose from. Which one is the one for you?
First Step: RelaxNo matter which avenue of defense you choose, or which attorney you hire to represent you, the best thing that you can possibly do for yourself is to relax and calm down. Irrational and scared emotions will try to get the best of you. It's your job to make sure that you can process the information that's being presented to you, so that you can decide which attorney is best for you, and how you wish to proceed with your defense.
Office of Public Defender or Private AttorneyThe first and most obvious option for many people is the Office of the Public Defender (OPD). If you qualify for their services, the OPD will provide you with a competent attorney to represent you in your defense for free or at little charge. While Public Defenders are often fantastic attorneys, they are overworked and stretched too thin to provide the type of personalized and detailed attention that private counsel can. On any given day in court, a Public Defender may be representing a dozen clients. Many of their clients speak to them right before their trial begins for a few minutes, and that might be their only interaction with their attorney. If the OPD is the only attorney that you can afford, please, please, please hire the OPD to represent you because they are an infinitely better option than representing yourself.
If you have the ability and the means to hire private counsel to represent you, you will almost certainly find that a private attorney has more time to devote to your case and to communicate with you and prepare for your case. Unlike Public Defenders, when private attorneys go to court, they usually only have one or two cases on that day. Without the need to divide their attention they can be with you the whole time you wait in court, and provide much needed reassurance and advice throughout the entire process.
Which Private Attorney to HireAssuming that you decide to hire a private attorney, you must now choose your attorney out of a seemingly endless list of potential attorneys. HERE'S THE THING THAT MOST ATTORNEY'S WON'T TELL YOU! There are several attorneys who can do just as good a job as the next attorney. I'm in courtrooms across the State of Maryland everyday. What I've found is that most attorneys are good at their job. Small differences in style make some attorneys flashier, or more intimidating than others, but for the most part, there's little difference in overall effectiveness of representation.
Anytime that I meet with a potential client, I always tell them this, "there's always going to be an attorney out there who will charge you less, and there's always going to be an attorney out there who will charge you more, the most important thing is to choose an attorney who you are comfortable with, and who you trust." You're hiring someone to protect your freedom. Make sure that you trust that individual before you entrust them with your freedom.
The last thing to consider is whether you want to hire a big firm, big name attorney, or a small firm and/or solo practice attorney. At this point we're basically splitting hairs, but similar to the OPD, a big firm, big name attorney is going to have a lot of other matters on his/her plate, and may not be able to give the same type of personalized representation that a small firm or a solo practitioner would be able to. The Attorney Grievance Commission fields complaints from clients against their attorneys. Every year, the most frequent complaint is that the attorney didn't respond to emails and phone calls, or that he/she didn't communicate with the client. Another potential pitfall with hiring the big firm, big name attorney is that sometimes, an associate goes to trial with you instead of the attorney you thought you hired. These problems are far less prevalent when hiring a small firm or a solo practitioner. Regardless of who you hire, be sure you be clear about who will be coming to court with you.
ConclusionThere are many attorneys out there, and it can be intimidating to try to find the perfect one for you. What you must keep in mind is that no attorney has a magic wand, and no attorney is always going to get a dismissal or a not guilty verdict. Every attorney will try to help you achieve the best result possible. Choose the attorney that you trust, and that you feel comfortable with.