Try to bring in everything that has been given to you up to this point by any police officer, judge, clerk, DA or anyone else connected to the case. Having this paperwork will help the prospective attorney quickly orient his or herself to where the case stands at the moment and what are some of the possibilities. Even if you don't have discovery (the police reports and other evidence held by the DA) bring in the charging document (the ticket or complaint), this will give the prospective attorney an understanding of the case (who the officer was, when and where this is alleged to have happened, a vague idea of what the state thinks you did). If you don't have some paperwork, write down what your court dates are and who is the judge in the case. The more information you can provide up front, the better your consultation will be.
Pay Attention to the Ground Rules
When you meet with a lawyer for the first time, listen to what they say initially. For example, an attorney is likely to explain that just because an attorney agrees to sit down with you and hold an initial meeting does not mean that you have hired the attorney or that an attorney-client relationship has formed. If an attorney tells you that he or she does not want to talk about something in particular at this point, there is probably a very good reason and you should heed that advice.
There is a saying among lawyers that the story never gets better after the first telling and it is normally true. Everything your future attorney advises you is going to depend at least of some degree on what you tell them now. Withhold some information and it may well come back to damage you position in the future. Nothing is more uncomfortable than to be relying on a defense that proves to be wholly worthless because the client withheld a fact that he or she deemed unimportant or embarrassing, but legally speaking was paramount. Being honest with your prospective attorney is a great way to see that you get a good analysis of your case and an accurate quote on the cost.
Know Your Secrets Are Safe
Even with a perspective client, the attorney is bound under ethics rules in most circumstances to keep the prospective client's confidences. There are technical limits which include among other things that an attorney cannot ethically aid in the commission of a crime or allow you to present false information to the court, but in the vast majority of cases, the attorney must keep things disclosed in the IC between the attorney and the prospective client completely confidential. If a prospective attorney asks you for some piece of information, baring a rare exception, they must hold that information in strict confidence.
Write down the Questions You Have Ahead of Time
You undoubtedly have questions of an attorney before you meet with them: How much will this cost? How many of these cases have you done? What is your general strategy in a criminal case? How many people will be working on my case? Many questions. Write all your questions down before you meet with the attorney so that you can accomplish as much as possible in your initial consultation. You'll be more efficient, you won't forget something and you will make a wise judgment in who you hire.
Keep in Mind What Your Goals Are
Of course, since being charged with a crime, whatever the severity, is not a pleasant experience, your hope is that the case will simply go away. This does happen, but not often. Know what your goals are: exoneration at trial, plea to lesser charges, no jail time, keep a driver's license, etc. The entire defense process will be guided by your goals. Make sure that the prospective attorney knows what you hope for in your case and what you are willing to accept, so that the attorney can properly advise you at your Initial Consultation.
Keep in Mind What Your Budget Is
The prospective attorney will tell you what he or she charges for a case like the one you have described. In all likelihood he or she will ask for some money up front, called a retainer, to take the case. This maybe only a part of the money that will be required to see the case through to the end. Pay attention to any estimated future costs and what the fee covers. You and the attorney may decide that your case would be helped by an expert or an investigator. You will likely pay for these. What you absolutely don't want to have happen is for your case to be unfinished but not be able to afford to see it through to the end. A less expensive attorney who finishes your case is better than a more expensive attorney that only completes part of the case.
Be Prepared For a Frank Assessment
If you have been honest with your prospective attorney and told the attorney all the information then the attorney should be able to tell you if your goals are reasonable given your budget and the facts as the attorney understand them. The prospective attorney should be able to explain what strategies you might employ and what outcomes might result. If the attorney won't give you an exact answer about the outcome of a case, this is not worrisome, because criminal cases are fluid creatures which ebb and flow with a great deal of variables. However if the prospective attorney gives only a rosy outlook, there may be a problem. Make sure you are hearing both good and bad news about your case and don't accept guarantees. The attorney is not in a position to guarantee anything, because a criminal case involves multiple people and personalities and you can only really control your choices.
Initial Consultation: A Two Way Job Interview
Understand that you are negotiating a contract for attorney services when you go in for an IC. Don't go to an IC thinking that the attorney is going to take the case simply because you have the money to pay. The attorney wants to see that he or she can work with you, rely on you and give you advice that you will follow. Undoubtedly, you are doing the same thing: looking for an attorney that will work hard for you, represent you well and give you wise counsel. If an attorney says they never do something, and that thing is important to you, don't hire the attorney even if you can otherwise afford them. It is important that both sides are happy with the arrangement to be as effective as possible in serving your interests.
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