Hiring a defense lawyer what do I need to know?

Recently on our legal forum a user asked, “I have been charged with a felony for armed robbery. This is my second arrest and charge. The first time around I didn’t get good legal counsel, and I ended up spending several years in jail. I want to make sure I get a good attorney this time. What should I consider before I hire a defense lawyer?”

Although it’s tempting for some defendants to simply plead guilty, most criminal defendants should talk to legal counsel before entering a guilty plea. Not only can fines and penalties be high, those convicted of a felony may have difficulty expunging their records. Felony convictions can also lead to a loss of voting rights, loss of the ability to own a gun, and loss of employment opportunities.

Steps to hiring a good defense lawyer

  1. Hire a defense lawyer who has experience defending the type of case in which you have been accused. 

Not only do you want to hire the best defense lawyer you can afford, you also want to hire a lawyer who has experience fighting the type of charges you have had filed against you. If you are filing for divorce, you need a divorce lawyer. If you have been charged with DUI you need a lawyer who has experience dealing with DUI cases.

Additionally, it can also be very helpful to hire a lawyer who has experience in the court and courthouse where your case will be heard. 

  1. Talk to several lawyers and schedule an interview.

To find the right defense lawyer you should get several recommendations. Talk to family members and friends. Use online search tools to research possible choices.

After you have made a choice and scheduled an interview it’s important to prepare. To assess your case, the lawyer will need information regarding your case including: bail papers, all information provided by the court regarding appearances, and a copy of the police report. 

Come prepared with a list of questions for your lawyer. 

-How long have they been practice law?
-Do they experience arguing cases in court?
-Where did they attend law school?
-Do they experience working with the prosecutor’s office? 

Next, ask the attorney some general questions about your case. For example, what legal options you might have, whether they think you have a good case, and questions regarding the legal process (i.e. arraignment, motions, hearings, depositions, potential plea agreements or a possible trial). 

  1. Ensure the lawyer is available to work on your case.

One of the most common complaints of criminal defendants is that their lawyer is too difficult to reach or fails to contact them. For this reason, it’s important to find a lawyer who is readily accessible. The issue, however, is that good lawyers are generally in high demand. Good lawyers may also be overextended or handling too many cases.

If possible, try to determine your attorney’s availability at the first interview. Find out if they are available to represent you and whether they will be directly involved in your case. Most importantly, however, find out how they can be contacted and how quickly you can expect a response.

  1. Identify legal costs. 

Unlike personal injury or disability lawyers, most criminal defense lawyers will not work on a contingency fee. Defense lawyer may charge by the hour or they may give you a flat rate to do the necessary legal work. In some cases, you might also have to pay a retainer fee. 

Make sure (regardless of what amount they quote) that you clarify whether the quoted cost includes ALL legal fees.

  1. Hire someone you like and who can communicate.

We’ve all been to see a brilliant doctor only to find that they can’t communicate or won’t bother spending any time with you answering questions. While your attorney does not have to be your best friend or someone you want to go to a party with, it’s important that they can clearly communicate with you. More importantly, however, make sure they can communicate effectively to the court and court officials.

Knowing and understanding the law is only one piece of the puzzle. It’s also important that your lawyer is a professional communicator who can clearly evaluate your case.

Bottom Line:

Some defendants are reluctant to spend money on a defense lawyer. You, however, understand the need for a good defense lawyer. A good lawyer can help determine whether you could plead to a lesser charge, whether there is a defense strategy you have not considered, and also offer information on the penalties you might face if you are eventually convicted.




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