Whether you’re facing misdemeanor or felony charges, being charged with a crime is a scary experience. The thoughts of incarceration, fines and costs, probation, losing your job, getting kicked out of school, and having a permanent record can be overwhelming. If it is your first experience with the criminal justice system, the tension is even worse. Now you face the task of choosing a lawyer to represent you. For many, they don’t know where to start looking or what kind of attorney to look for. Here are some tips to keep in mind when looking for a criminal defense lawyer…
- Criminal Defense is a Substantial Part of Their Practice—When your life, freedom, and future is on the line the last thing you want is to be represented by a novice or general practitioner. When you need a major surgery you don’t go to your family doctor, you see a specialist. When you are being charged with a crime, you want someone representing you that knows the ins and outs of the system and the judges you will be facing. You don’t want a “dabbler” who occasionally takes a criminal case. Criminal law is far too complex and vastly different than other areas of the law. You want someone with experience so you can have confidence in the person representing you.
- Are They a Member of any Professional Organizations—Look for a lawyer that is involved in professional organizations such as the criminal law section of the local or state bar, Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan, National College for DUI Defense, Michigan OWI Attorneys, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Criminal Defense Resource Center, etc.
- References and Reviews—Check to see if they have any client reviews online. Sites such as AVVO (www.avvo.com), Lawyerratingz (www.lawyerratingz.com) and Yelp (www.yelp.com) can be good places to look. Also, check with your family and friends to see who has a good reputation in the community. Court clerks are also great to ask because they see tons of lawyers on a daily basis—good and bad, so they have valuable insight as to who is good and effective. Many state and local bar associations have referral services that you can check with.
- How Do They Charge—Do they charge hourly or flat fees? Generally, you want a lawyer who charges flat fees. You know upfront what you will be paying so you know how to budget and in the long run it’s more cost efficient. You don’t have to worry about being charged for every phone call, email, etc. It also prevents the lawyer from dragging the case on, talking you into a needless trial, or filing frivolous motions so they can pad their billing. Flat fees encourage lawyers to be time efficient and work smarter, not longer for more billable hours.
- Experience in Your Particular Type of Case—Not all criminal cases are created equally and neither are all criminal defense lawyers. Some make their living defending DUI and drunk driving charges, others focus on sex crimes or drug charges, while some limit their expertise to white collar crimes. Whatever your charge is, you need someone with experience and knowledge in defending that specific crime. Don’t be afraid to ask what type of crimes they have the most experience defending or what areas of criminal defense they limit their practice to. Criminal law has its own little niches and it is important that you retain someone that practices in that particular field of criminal law.
- Watch Out for Lawyers Who Make Promises and Guarantees—The only promise or guarantee that a lawyer can ethically make to you is that he will do the best job for you that he can possibly do. That means acting ethically, being prepared, reasonably responding to your inquiries and keeping you informed, fully explaining the law as it applies to your case, and being honest with you and the court. There are snake oil salesmen out there masquerading as lawyers who will tell you what you want to hear in order to get your business. This false sense of security ultimately leads to disappointment and resentment when things don’t turn out as the lawyer had promised. No one can truly guarantee anything. You might be 99.9% sure that the sun is going to rise tomorrow, but you can’t promise it to 100% certainty. The legal profession is no different. No matter how good a job the lawyer does for you or despite how hard he works, sometimes things happen that are beyond the lawyer’s control that dictate the outcome of your case. A lawyer’s promise or guarantee may make you feel better temporarily, but it is not ethical behavior.
- Does the Lawyer Demonstrate Expertise in a Particular Field of Law—Does the lawyer have any teaching experience at the college or law school level or has he published any scholarly articles or books on a particular area of law? Look for lawyers that are frequent speakers or lecturers at Continuing Legal Education (CLE) seminars. While speaking and teaching may be a plus, it is not necessarily a reason not to hire a lawyer simply because he lacks these particular credentials. It is just one factor among many to consider.
- Instincts—Learn to trust your gut. Do you feel right about hiring this particular lawyer after speaking with him, especially in person? Don’t go with someone whom you don’t have a good feeling about or not comfortable with.
- Determine What Qualities are Important to You—Everyone has something different that they are looking for when hiring a lawyer. You have to determine what those qualities are and then decide which lawyer best meets them. For some, it may be good communication skills, others may value years of experience over someone young and determined, while many desire a local attorney versus an out-of-towner. Only you can determine what matters most to you.
- Avoid the Lowest Bidders— Lawyers cost money. There’s no getting around that. You wouldn’t go shopping for a brain surgeon by hiring the cheapest one. There’s an old saying that “you get what you pay for.” It is true with lawyers as well. For example, if a lawyer quotes you $500 for a DUI run for the hills! There is no way a lawyer could put forth the time, effort, and energy necessary to do a thorough job for a client for that price. They will get the police report and plead you out the first chance they get because that is all they could do for that fee. If you want someone good and diligent, you will have to pay for it. However, don’t assume that just because they charge a high fee means they are a great lawyer. Evaluate them using the other criteria mentioned and aggregate all the factors before making a decision.
Again, use these factors as a guide and not a mandatory checklist.
Being charged with a crime is a scary experience and can have long-lasting implications on your life and future. Hiring the right criminal attorney for your case is an important decision. Make sure you ask plenty of questions before making that decision.
If you are facing criminal charges, call Austin Legal Services, PLC today to speak to our Michigan criminal defense lawyer at (517) 614-1983.