Whether you were arrested for a crime against a person (like assault and battery, rape, or murder), a crime against property (like shoplifting, burglary, or arson), a drug crime (marijuana possession or cocaine dealing), or any other criminal offense, a criminal defense attorney can help, but not every attorney will be right for you.
In this guide, learn how to research your criminal defense attorneys, why you need to contact them and meet at their office. Also, find out what are the 8 questions you should ask during your first interview to decide whether or not she or he will be in charge of your case.
Do You Need a Criminal Defense Attorney?
A criminal defense attorney usually only does criminal work. He or she may have a few side areas of law, but the focus is always on defending people who have criminal problems. Thus, ALWAYS avoid an attorney who says he has a general practice of real estate, family and corporate law.
Do not gauge criminal attorneys by the furniture in the waiting room. Do not expect him to be gushing, emotional or use fluffy social language at your arrival in the office like a commission sales clerk. The business of criminal law is deadly serious and your attorney will get immediately to business.
Money matters need quick clarification and agreement. Attorneys are expensive, and few and fewer are accepting legal aid. Here you will be guided by your income. If you cannot pay for the one you have selected, he will gladly suggest one suitable to your ability to pay.
Not Every Criminal Defense Attorney will be Right for You
You must be sure that your philosophy of how to handle your criminal defense case matches that of your attorneys; both of you need to be on the same page. It is important that you ask questions and gather information which reveals the attorney’s philosophy for handling cases.
Selecting the right criminal defense attorney for your case will help you get through legal problems with the least amount of time, stress and money.
Research Your Criminal Defense Attorney
Once you have selected a criminal defense attorney to meet with, the next thing you should do is look into that attorney’s experience and background. There are several ways to do this:
1. Search the Internet: Do a Google search on your attorney. Look for a legal blog, a website, news stories quoting or featuring the attorney, and other online information. Ideally, your attorney should devote almost all of his or her practice to the criminal defense matter you are willing to solve.
2. Contact the State Office of Court Administration: This office can tell you when the attorney was admitted to practice law, where he or she went to school and when he or she graduated, and whether the attorney is in good standing or has a record of disciplinary actions.
3. Ask Around: You should ask your circle of friends and professional advisers (accountants, attorneys, even some of their past or existing clients, etc) what they know about the attorney, or if they know someone who does know about the attorney.
Contacting the Criminal Defense Attorney’s Office and Scheduling Your Initial Consultation
Now that you have selected a criminal defense attorney to interview and have done research on him or her, the next step is to contact the attorney’s office and schedule an appointment. You can learn a lot about how your attorney will behave if you retain him or her just by how he or she handles the simple but important task of scheduling a meeting with you as a potential new client.
Contact the criminal defense attorney’s office by telephone or e-mail and request an appointment. When you do this, it is important to tell the attorney’s office that you would like to discuss a specific type of criminal defense case. Take careful note of how quickly your message is answered. Your inquiry should always be answered promptly. If the attorney you contacted cannot manage to reply to a potential new client who is bringing him or her a new case and therefore new fees, that fact should tell you something about how he or she will behave once he or she already has your money.
Also, pay close attention to who you deal with in setting the appointment and how you are treated. Most good criminal defense attorneys rely on an assistant to schedule their appointments, and that person is very often responsible for much of the day to day communications and interactions with you once you hire your attorney. If you are not comfortable with the assistant who sets your appointment, it is a sign that the attorney may not be right for you and your criminal defense case.
Finally, you should ask about the cost of the initial consultation. Evaluate the response you get to these questions. Was the response clear and unequivocal?
Visiting the Criminal Defense Attorney’s Office; What You See & Hear is What You Get
The experience of meeting your criminal defense attorney at his or her office is critical to determining whether this attorney is a good fit for you and your special case. An attorney’s office is, in effect, his or her professional home. And the rules that apply to a attorney’s professional home are the same as those that apply to your own home. So, you should pay careful attention to what you see and hear in your attorney’s office.
1. Visit during normal business hours. Set up your appointment during normal hours when the rest of the staff is present. Why? Because you want to meet the staff and see just how well they take care of clients.
2. Is the office neat and clean? This tells you something about how organized and focused the criminal defense attorney is. If the office is a mess and there are papers and files everywhere, imagine how that will affect the attorney’s ability to find your file and deal with your case at critical moments.
3. How does the attorney and his or her employees behave towards you and each other? It is important to observe how the criminal defense attorney’s staff treats you and each other during your visit. What you see when you are there is likely to be their best behavior. If you are not well taken care of during your visit or you observe inappropriate behavior during your visit, you can be certain this conduct will get worse once you are a client of the firm and the attorney has your money in hand.
Interviewing your Criminal Defense Attorney; 8 Questions You should Ask
Preparing for your interview with your criminal defense attorney will help you make a better and more informed decision. You should organize discussion topics prior to meeting and bring with you any relevant paperwork. Your criminal defense attorney may need some of the documents you bring with you so be prepared and retain copies for your own records. If you can, you should write down dates and times of events, the names and addresses of any witnesses and any other important facts.
You should try to understand that criminal defense attorneys have professional and ethical commitments to all of their other clients, so you should expect your interview to last about 30-45 minutes on average.
At some point during the meeting, you should be able to ask questions about your case. You should try and write down as many of your questions as you can before the meeting so that you make sure you remember to ask them.
The 8 questions you should ask in the interview with your criminal defense attorney:
1. How much experience do you have with criminal defense cases like mine?
2. How much of your practice is devoted to the type of law I need help with?
3. What other types of criminal defense cases do you handle?
4. How do you communicate with clients? Do you prefer e-mail, text message or telephone?
5. How quickly do you answer calls and other communications from clients?
6. How much will your services cost me? What is your retainer fee?
7. Do you bill for normal business ‘overhead’ such as faxes, postage, and photocopies?
8. How long does an criminal defense case like mine usually take if there are no unusual developments?
Deciding which Criminal Defense Attorney is Right for You
While you are interviewing a criminal defense attorney, you should listen carefully to the answers provided. You should also pay extremely close attention to your attorney’s personality, his or her manners and behavior, and how you feel during the interview.
How does the attorney make you feel? Comfortable? At ease? Are you treated as an equal and with respect? Or do you feel like the criminal defense attorney has a superior attitude and talks down to you? Has the attorney spent meaningful time with you and provided answers to your questions and concerns in a friendly and appropriate manner?
How you feel about your criminal defense attorney and how he or she behaves towards you will have an affect on your ability to trust and communicate effectively with that person over emotional and highly personal matters. Once the interview is over and you have time to reflect, assess the strengths and weaknesses of the candidate. Did the criminal defense attorney listen to you? Did the attorney provide enough information to make you feel comfortable that they know the law and procedure? Did you feel confident?
Once you have gone through all of these steps, you now have the information and experiences necessary to decide which criminal defense attorney best suits your needs.