These five rules will guide you through one of the most important life decisions: hiring a lawyer. Following these rules will lead you to the right lawyer, and equally importantly make sure you avoid wasting time interviewing the wrong lawyer.
1. Avoid the Mill
Be very afraid of large criminal firms. Although it is tempting to want a "team of lawyers" on your side, a large law firm is just a mill. A mill is a place where the owner makes the profit by running the business and bringing in clients but it is the entry level workers who do the labor. In a law firm the owners are usually one or two *named* partners who run the firm and bring in clients but do NOT work on the cases and do NOT go to Court. Instead of the impressive lawyer who interested you in the firm, your case will be handled by a low level employee whom you have never met. These young associates mean well, but the mill keeps them busy with far too many cases and they have limited experience. The mill tricks you into hiring a "team" led by a superstar lawyer, but you end up as an anonymous file on a stack of dozens that one young attorney is responsible for. Follow these rules to avoid this ruse.
2. Hire only a trial lawyer
There are only two types of criminal defense attorneys: Trial lawyers and settlement lawyers. Every single quality Lawyer has dozens of trials under their belt--without exception. Do not invest your money in anyone who has not tried cases to a jury with favorable results. Most cases do not go to trial but opposing counsel must know your attorney is willing to go the distance if necessary. Make no mistake, the parties and judges know the trial lawyers and treat them differently. Do not defend your case without this advantage. Besides, some cases just need to be tried. For example, a commercial driver with a DUI should always consider a trial. Regardless of the "facts" their entire career is on the line. Likewise with a domestic violence case during a divorce. A conviction could mean never seeing your kids again. In a civil context, a tenant's exercise of their right to a jury trial is crucial leverage and can turn a losing case into a favorable outcome.
3. Get Home Court Advantage
Even the best attorney will be battling uphill in a foreign environment. Good attorneys frequently reject cases because they have not practiced in the city or county where the case is being heard. They know their clients are better served by a local attorney and it is unfair to charge their client a premium for them to *learn* a new Court. Even within a single county such as Los Angeles, criminal cases can easily go wrong due to ignorance of the local rules, customs, and expectations of the Courts. These are not written in any book, an attorney learns them by personal experience and can only properly navigate them with a good reputation in those Courts.
4. Experience Is Not Always Competence
Nobody wants a *brand new* lawyer handling their case. However, never assume someone*s experience makes them good. You can gain invaluable experience by doing 20 jury trials, but if you lose them all due to lack of preparation and talent, that experience is not much good to your client. Put another way, a driving record of 20 years is excellent experience, but if you have crashed every year in that time, you certainly are not competent. Do not automatically assume the person who has "30 years in" knows what they are doing. You may be better off with a younger, passionate trial lawyer who knows the Court and has only 5 trials, but 5 wins, under her belt.
5. Get It In Writing: No Other Lawyer Works Your Case
If you have used these guidelines and your own good judgement to choose your attorney-- do not let your time and effort go to waste. Take the final step and make sure they will be the only lawyer working on your case and get it in writing. Make sure the person you chose will actually do the work and go to Court, not some green associate. When your Court day comes, the last thing you want to hear from your lawyer is "nice to meet you." If an attorney is unwilling to do that, you should walk away because you do not know who will handle your case. If you are told that a guarantee would "limit the team approach" then run away, that is a a Mill talking.
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