When you need a criminal defense lawyer, there is no time to waste. These 13 questions will help you get the best lawyer for your defense.
Hiring A Criminal Defense Attorney
When you need a criminal defense lawyer, there is usually no time to waste. You’ve probably already been charged with a crime, so you need a lawyer as soon as possible. That doesn’t mean you should rush hiring a criminal defense lawyer without asking a few key questions first. This is the person who will be in charge of your defense, so you’ll want to learn as much as possible before you hire a criminal defense attorney. While the temptation is to hurry the process, it is in your best interest to carefully consider who you choose.
The best way to find the right criminal defense lawyer is to have an in-person consult. This way, you can find out if the defense attorney has the qualifications and experience your case requires. And even almost as important, you’ll be able to see if you will feel comfortable working with the attorney.
1) Does the Attorney Offer a Free Consultation?
An in-person meeting is essential when choosing a defense attorney. Many attorneys will offer a free consult to get the basic facts of the case. A five-minute phone call won’t do.
More importantly, you will be able to see if you feel comfortable working with the lawyer for the next couple of months, or longer, depending on your case. Once you’ve had the initial consultation, the attorney will be able to give you a quote for their services.
2) How Long Have You Practiced Criminal Law?
Don’t be afraid to ask this question. You want to know how much experience the lawyer has had in handling cases like yours. You want to know if the lawyer’s practice is focused mainly on criminal defense law. While any lawyer with a law license is technically allowed to work on any type of case, most do specialize in one particular area.
So, beware of a lawyer who works in the area of “General Practice.” Your freedom, reputation, and future are all at stake, so you want an attorney who knows the ins and outs of the criminal justice system. This type of experience comes from being in the criminal court system on a daily basis.
3) Do You Have a Specialized Area of Criminal Law?
In addition to asking your prospective lawyer if they are experienced in criminal law, you should ask them if they have a specialized area in criminal law. Criminal law cases encompass drug charges, DUIs, murder charges, and more. By asking how many cases they’ve handled that are similar to yours, you can be assured that they know what they are doing.
4) How Often Do Your Cases Go to Trial?
Often criminal defense attorneys settle cases by plea bargains. This is not necessarily bad, but you will want to know that your attorney has trial experience as well. This way, you will know that you are getting the best advice. In addition, if the attorney doesn’t have a lot of trial experience, they may guide you to a plea bargain, or your case may be too complicated for them to handle.
5) How Much Is the Lawyer’s Legal Fee and When Will Payment Be Due?
Money and legal fees are a sensitive subject for many people. You want the best lawyer who will get the best resolution for your criminal case, but you also may not want to commit to a lawyer whose fees create a financial burden for you and your family. It’s a tricky subject to discuss, especially when you are also stressed about the entire situation. What you can, or are willing to pay is personal, but you should be concerned when a lawyer won’t give you a definite answer about how much their services will cost.
There are numerous ways criminal defense attorneys calculate their fees. Some may charge an hourly fee that draws from an initial retainer. Others may work at a flat rate or a fixed fee. This lets you know upfront how much the legal fees will be before hiring a criminal defense lawyer.
Also, the severity of the case may affect the lawyer’s fee. A first-time offender will most likely have a less complicated case that will take less of the lawyer’s time so that the fee may be lower. The price may be affected by factors such as the severity of the charge, prior criminal history (if any), aggravating factors, probation status, immigration status, and the estimated length of time it will take to resolve your case. Whether or not the case goes to trial can also affect the fee.
Ask for a written retainer agreement which spells out how much you will be paying, what services will be provided, and the terms of representation. Avoid any criminal attorney who tells you they will let you know their fee after your case progresses. This is a huge red flag.
Some law practices offer payment plans. Arrests are rarely expected and often happen to good people at the worst possible time. And after posting bail, you may be in a financial bind. Don’t be afraid to ask about payment plans or discuss budget. It may not be a deal-breaker, but it’s good to know if the option exists.
6) Will You Be the Only One Working on My Case?
If there is more than one attorney in a defense law practice, you will want to ask if the attorney you are interviewing will be the only one working on your case. Working with a team isn’t necessarily bad, but you’ll want to know ahead of time. Often, a client will retain a super expensive criminal defense lawyer, and when their court date arrives, the big shot is nowhere in sight, but rather a junior associate handling the case.
Knowing who is representing you and where your hard earned legal fees are going is important. Hiring boutique firms, with partners who personally handle your case will assure you that you have the lawyer with the most experience in the firm handling your case.
7) What Is Your Intended Strategy for My Case?
Asking this question lets you know how a potential attorney will approach your case. The lawyer can lay out their strategy and let you know if they think you should settle or go to trial. Legal strategy develops at the outset but can often take a turn depending on how the evidence and case unfolds.
8) How Often Will the Two of You Communicate?
When faced with criminal charges and the possibility of incarceration, hefty fines, or both looming in your future, you need a lawyer who will be there when you have questions. This is a stressful time, and you will have a thousand questions on what seems like a daily basis. You may be stressed and losing sleep. You’ll want to know how accessible your attorney will be. You need to know what to expect in terms of asking questions and how long to expect it will take the attorney or someone from his office to respond.
9) What Will You Need from Me?
Your attorney may need you to contribute documents and other vital information to your case. During the initial interview, the lawyer should be able to let you know what they will need you to provide.
10) How Long Will My Case Take?
Your prospective lawyer may not be able to give you an exact time frame, but they should be able to give you a general estimate of the order of events and how long they expect them to take.
11) Can I Avoid a Trial? Should I?
Trials are costly and emotional. You will have to pay for your lawyer’s time in court, and maybe more than once. And you are responsible for court costs that pay for the judge’s and prosecutor’s time as well.
These costs add up faster than you realize. That’s where a plea bargain may be a better option for you. In a plea bargain, you can agree not to contest the charge against you in exchange for a lighter sentence. The lawyer can advise you on whether or not going to trial is the best option for you.
12) What Potential Punishments Am I Facing and How Likely are They?
Every crime has standards of punishment assigned by the government. Depending on the crime, this may involve jail time, a fine, or both. Your punishment will be based on your criminal history and the factors of your case. An experienced criminal attorney will be able to tell you the potential punishment for your crime, and the likelihood of their severity, so you will be prepared for any likely outcome.
13) Why Should I Choose You?
Surprisingly, the simplest questions can give you the most valuable information. A straightforward question such as ‘Why should I choose you?” can give the information you need to make your decision.
There’s a lot to consider when choosing a criminal defense lawyer. Keep in mind that even seemingly minor crimes can have harsh penalties, so choosing the best lawyer to represent your case is paramount.
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