Four Steps You Should Take
When facing criminal accusations, you need a criminal defense attorney who will fight to protect your rights and minimize the potential consequences of the charges you face as much as possible. Choosing a criminal defense attorney, however, can seem a daunting proposition under the best of circumstances; and, let’s face it, facing criminal charges is not the best of circumstances.
Here’s what to look for in an attorney if you face criminal charges.
Step One: Do a Basic Search Based on Geography
Legal marketing websites like Avvo offer lists of attorneys who practice criminal defense law in your city and state, and feature reviews of those attorneys. The direction of most (but not all) criminal cases is heavily influenced by who prosecutes it and who is assigned as the judge to preside over it. Using the tools on these sites to narrow down your search to well-reviewed local criminal defense attorneys is a good first step, because it helps to ensure that you will hire an attorney who has familiarity with the key players in your case, and with the rhythms and personalities that will shape how it proceeds.
To make sure you cover your bases on locating local attorneys, you can also check the Georgia state bar website for a list of criminal attorneys in your area.
Step Two: Check Experience with Specific Types of Law
Now look to see if the attorneys your search turned up have experience with the specific area of criminal law you need. You want a lawyer who knows the ins and outs of the law and court procedures applicable to your specific case. You wouldn’t hire an eye doctor to do your knee surgery, and for the same reason you should only trust your criminal defense to an attorney who has represented lots of clients charged with similar offenses in the same court where your case is pending.
You can usually find most of this information on the lawyer’s website. But you should also be ready to ask the lawyer questions directly, such as:
- How much experience do you have defending crimes like mine?
- What percentage of your practice would you say deals with these types of crimes?
- Have you defended crimes in this specific court in the past?
An experienced attorney can make a big difference in your case, whether you accept a plea bargain or go to trial.
Step Three: Take a Look at the Lawyer’s Outcomes
A lawyer cannot promise you any particular result in your criminal case. Stay far away from any lawyer who tells you otherwise.
But that doesn’t mean a lawyer’s track record is irrelevant. Far from it. A lawyer with a reputation for obtaining positive outcomes is a definite plus for your defense. It tells you that your attorney has the skills necessary to protect your interests, and signals to prosecutors that they will face a tough fight in court if it comes down to that.
Step Four: Interview the Lawyers
Many lawyers will offer a free initial consultation on your case. Take them up on it. It’s an opportunity for the lawyer to get to know you and to hear about the charges you face. It’s also a chance for you to get to know more about the lawyer and to decide if it’s a good “fit.” During your interview, ask questions about:
- Communication methods. How does the attorney choose to communicate with his clients? Does he prefer email, text messaging, or phone conversations? Look for an attorney who uses a communication method that works for you. If the attorney prefers a communication method you do not like, consider looking for a different attorney.
- Communication frequency. In some criminal cases, the investigation drags out for months or even years. Sometimes, you may struggle with the uncertainty as you wait to learn more about your case. Find out how often the attorney expects to communicate with you as your case moves forward. Choose an attorney who can commit to keeping you up-to-date, even if it’s just a check-in to see how you are doing and to let you know he’s still on top of everything.
- Personality. You need an attorney who can communicate with you effectively and clearly. Personality plays a large role in that task. To be clear, you don’t hire an attorney to be your best friend. You hire an attorney to give you honest, clear, sound legal advice to help you make important decisions that will affect your future. When meeting with an attorney, ask yourself: is this someone who I feel I can listen to and understand? Will I come away from conversations with this attorney confident that he has given me accurate and well-considered advice?
- Cost. Cost is always a factor when you hire a private criminal defense attorney. Two factors come into play: what you can afford, and how your attorney charges for his work. It’s essential to go into any meeting with a realistic view of what you can afford on your own or by borrowing against assets or from friends and family. Not all attorneys charge the same for a criminal defense, and it’s not always the case that the most expensive lawyer is the best one. Look for an attorney who deals with money issues in clear terms. In some representations, criminal defense attorneys will charge a “lump sum.” In others, they will ask for a retainer and bill their time at an hourly rate. Both of these arrangements have benefits and drawbacks for clients. Know what you can pay and expect your attorney to deal with money issues up-front and in a straightforward way.
Choosing a criminal defense attorney can, quite literally, affect the course of your life. Do not trust your future to just anyone. Do your research, ask tough questions, and go with the local attorney you can afford who inspires trust and confidence.