Choosing a criminal defense lawyer may well rank among the most important decisions a person can make.
You will be relying on this person to protect your freedom, your family, and your reputation. This is not the time to cut corners or to skimp. It is an unfortunate fact of life that even if you are wrongly accused, or you are overcharged, you will spend a large sum of money protecting yourself. It is unlikely you will ever get that money back through civil suits.
However, if spending that money keeps you out of jail, earning a living to support your family, and protects your freedom — it will be the best investment of your life.
Sometimes clients want to discuss the lawyer’s “win-loss record” in black and white numbers: how many trials has the lawyer won, or what percentage did they win. If your lawyer could get an investigator into your case before the accusation was made, and encourage a prosecutor to “no complaint” the case, which column does that case go in? It was clearly a win for that client. What about the lawyer who tries a case, and receives terrible legal rulings resulting in a conviction? Particularly if that loss is later overturned on appeal? It is not easy to grade criminal defense lawyers in a black and white chart of wins and losses.
To find a qualified defense attorney, you should consider some important issues:
- On-going training, both in current legal developments, as well as in presentation methods, and technology issues
- Communication style – can you ask questions and get them answered in a manner that you understand
- Cooperative problem solving – some attorneys treat clients as a file, a better approach is to treat them like a partner. Many decisions must be made by the attorney, for tactical reasons, based on their training and experience, but the client should nearly always be consulted about decisions that will, in one way or another, affect them for the rest of their life.
- Accessibility – most attorneys don’t work late evenings and weekends, but should be available if you are an established client having a case emergency
- Thoroughness, preparation, and quality of legal pleadings – this is sometimes hard for a client to assess, but a critical part of your defense
Although you should refrain from discussing your case with people other than your attorney in order to protect yourself, an initial meeting is covered by attorney-client privilege, even if you don’t hire the attorney, so it is important to carefully explain the circumstances of your case. It may be embarrassing and time consuming, but generally you should meet with a few attorneys before making a decision on who to hire — you will be spending considerable time with this person, under very stressful circumstances, and you want to know that whatever happens, you and your defense team can meet those challenges head on.