If you’ve ever seen Law & Order, you have a certain image of how criminal proceedings work. If the innocent get charged, they go to trial and their lawyer argues on their behalf so that a jury correctly concludes that they’re innocent.
Unfortunately, it often doesn’t work that way. The vast majority of criminal cases never go to trial. In fact, an estimated 90 to 95% of federal and state criminal cases were either concluded with a guilty plea, a negotiated plea resolution with the prosecutor or a dismissal.
This is why finding the right criminal defense attorney is so vital. You need a lawyer who will fight for you from day one. Here, we’re walking you through how to find the right criminal lawyer for you.
It all starts with determining your legal needs. You need to find out if you need a defense attorney.
If you are facing a criminal charge, you need to speak with a lawyer. Whether or not you actually plan to hire one, you do need to speak to a criminal defense attorney.
Why? A consultation goes a long way to help you understand the charges against you. It also helps you understand how to proceed, whether or not you hire a lawyer.
If you have a less serious charge, like a traffic infraction, then you don’t need anything beyond a consultation. If, however, you’re facing a more serious charge, like a misdemeanor or felony, you should have a defense attorney to defend you.
Now that you know whether or not you need a lawyer, it’s important to understand the difference between a criminal lawyer and a civil lawyer.
Private criminal lawyers tend to practice on their own or form small partnerships. These are usually geographically specific. Civil lawyers, by contrast, tend to congregate in large law firms.
This is important because it’s reflective of the difference in the type of work they do.
Civil lawyers tend to work with large businesses with ongoing legal needs (like in Suits, without the soap opera melodrama). Criminal lawyers, on the other hand, usually represent individuals with local problems, and they’re usually one-shot players who only have to represent a client for one case.
Attorneys defend all sorts of people, and every case is different. However, there are a few common qualities you should look for in a good criminal lawyer.
For starters, you need a lawyer who is a hard worker. There are hearings, investigations, motions, witnesses, and a ton of documents that need to be filed before you ever show up in court.
You also need a lawyer with stellar communication skills. But it’s not just about being a good speaker, it’s about being a good listener. They should be great at taking in information and figuring out how best to use it.
They should also be a great researcher. As we said, these cases have a lot of small details to handle, and you need a lawyer who’s going to do their homework to present your case as well as possible.
Now, even if you do find the right lawyer with the right qualities and dedication, it won’t do you any good if you don’t find a lawyer with the right experience.
As we said, there are a huge variety of criminal charges. A vandalism case is different from a sex crime, which is different from a murder charge, a traffic violation, an arson, or a theft.
You need a lawyer who has experience in your specific criminal case as well as experience practicing in front of your judge and prosecutor. If you’re facing an assault charge, you need a lawyer who knows how to handle assault charges. A lawyer who knows how to handle white collar crime isn’t going to help you much.
After all, each crime has its own particular aspects which affect how a prosecutor will proceed with your case. If your lawyer doesn’t know how to anticipate and counter your charges, they won’t be much good.
So, you might be wondering: what about the specifics of finding a defense attorney?
There are a few things you can do to ensure you find the right criminal attorney, both for you personally and for your specific case.
The first place you should look for a criminal lawyer is referrals.
For example, turn to people in your community with experience in the charges you face. If you face a sexual assault charge, for example, speak with a women’s group about who their lawyers were and what their experience was with them.
If you’re a business owner, you can speak with your fellow business owners to see if they have any recommendations.
Another great place to find a criminal lawyer is, well, other lawyers. After all, who knows the local legal climate better than someone who works in it every day?
However, keep in mind that such recommendations are highly personal. One person may click with a lawyer’s personality, while another might clash, and each will give opposing recommendations.
If you don’t know anyone who can offer recommendations, even another lawyer, you can check out a lawyer referral service. But keep in mind that these services won’t tell you anything about a lawyer’s individual philosophy.
Once you’ve found a few potential lawyers, it’s time to conduct an interview. Remember, you’re hiring a lawyer to complete a service for you. You’re more or less conducting a job interview, and you should treat it like one.
During this interview, don’t be shy about asking questions. Here are a few to consider:
Keep in mind that a higher fee does not necessarily mean the best lawyer. However, a rock-bottom fee is a red flag–ask yourself why they have to charge bargain basement prices.
During the interview, consider whether you’re comfortable with the lawyer, their office, and the answers they provide. Do you feel that they have the skills and experience to complete your case? Do you agree with their approach to your case?
Remember, they’re going to be helping you through a difficult time and handling a lot of sensitive information. If you’re not comfortable talking to them, it isn’t the right fit.
Now that you know how to find a criminal defense attorney, it’s time to dig into your case.
We are focused on getting results, and that means knowing our clients, knowing our local judges and prosecutors, and staying up to date on changes in criminal law.