Being arrested and charged with a crime is a frightening experience. You are out on bail. Now what? You call some friends and get online and start frantically looking up criminal defense lawyers in your area.
Findlaw.com is one resource to look for local attorneys in your area. Avvo.com is another. Both will have profiles, links and reviews of lawyers.
But in all honestly, no matter how good an attorney appears online in reviews and from referrals, the best way to find and retain a good lawyer is through interviewing your lawyer and asking some direct and tough questions about your case.
Make sure you get a consultation before you hire your lawyer and insist that you want to meet with them first and get comfortable with them because your case is very important to you.
Here are the questions you should ask:
- What are the likely charges that will be brought against me? Is there anything we can do about that? If you have been arrested for a particular crime, say a DUI or domestic violence, they may be “wobblers” which means that they can be charged as either felonies or misdemeanors. It is important to ask this question early in the case, because a good lawyer can try to get ahead of the charging decision and convince the DA’s office to bring a lesser charge or charge the case on one count versus another.
- How many cases like mine of you handled in the past 5 years and what were their outcomes? Many lawyers will greatly exaggerate or inflate their experience, or sometimes just outright lie about how many cases they have handled. It is important that you probe this area carefully and ask detailed questions about the facts of the previous cases, whether they settled or went to trial, how they settled, what the trial outcomes were? If your lawyer has not handled these types of cases extensively but also knows the law in this area very well, you should also be able to judge whether he is knowledgeable and informed and can thus represent you competently.
- Do you have flat fee arrangements as opposed to hourly billing? Although lawyers prefer to bill by the hour, the reality is that most lawyers will also handle cases on fixed fee arrangements. This means that they will charge you say 5K, 10K, 20K and so on depending on the phase of the case, whether it settles early, or whether it must be prepared for trial. If you can, try to negotiate a fee arrangement that makes sense for you. Sometimes hourly billing may be fine if the case does not require that much time to get a resolution.
- Will you be available by phone or to meet in person on a regular basis? Remember, this is your life. You are charged with a serious crime. Even though you may feel like you’ve done your job hiring a lawyer, remember that lawyers are busy handling other clients matters as well. You want to make sure your lawyer has the time and patience to explain things to you during every phase of the case. Make sure you get a commitment up front from your lawyer that they are going to be available at times that are important to you. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a lawyer who timely answers your emails, phone calls and gets back to you as quickly as possible. Many do not.
- How Would You Attack My Case? Don’t be afraid to ask your lawyer how they would attack your case. This will give you a sense of what their strategy might be and should give you further confidence that your lawyer knows what he is doing. A good lawyer will carefully explain each stage of the case to you, how you should be preparing for each phase, and how you as the client can be helping and assisting your lawyer in gathering facts, identifying witnesses and evidence to support your defenses.