It's safe to say that most people don't have the name and number of a criminal defense attorney close at hand. After all, few people expect to face criminal charges. If that unfortunate time arises for you or a loved one, chances are good that the stress and urgency of the situation is such that you're not in a frame of mind to give careful thought to the selection of an attorney.
Although attorneys' educational and licensing requirements differ from state to state, the criteria you should use when choosing a law firm is the same whether you live in Bothell, Washington or Ames, Iowa. Here are questions you should ask to help you find the lawyer who will best assist you in your legal defense.
1. What is Your Specialty?
Just as you wouldn't consult a foot doctor if you needed brain surgery, you shouldn't hire attornies specializing in class action suits when you need lawyers who will mount your criminal defense. Interview law firms and find one who concentrates on just a few types of legal matters, including criminal defense. For example, the attorneys might handle DUI, traffic ticket defense, probation violation hearings, and general criminal defense.
2. Do You Work as a Team?
Many lawyers employ a business strategy that calls for assigning a single lawyer to each case. This approach is problematic for a number of reasons. First, when the attorney is working on another case, out of the office, or on vacation, you'll be out of luck. Second, since even an attorney with considerable experience isn't well versed in every situation, your case may suffer. Third, those who are prosecuting your case have a whole team of experts at their disposal; shouldn't you have a team on your side?
Ideally, you should select a law firm that works as a team. Not only should the law firm have at least three lawyers who will work on your case (including a former prosecutor and a former public defender), but the attorneys should also have access to investigators and experts who will work on your behalf.
3. What are Your Fees?
Legal fees can be a slippery slope. If you have an attorney who charges by the hour and gives you no estimate of the number of hours your case will take, you can find yourself in financial ruin. On the other hand, the adage, "You get what you pay for," definitely applies to criminal defense matters. You need to find the balance between the quality of your lawyers and the fees they charge. The best way to do this is to find a law firm that operates on a fixed price (including a trial), and that openly provides their fee structure. Ideally, they should offer a free consultation, at which time they will fully disclose - in writing - all possible costs and fees associated with your case.
4. Will You Prepare for a Trial?
Many law firms agree to represent you with the thought that your case will be plea bargained or settled and never go to trial. The result may be a cost savings to you, but such a move may cost you more in the long run. A law firm that does the legwork and preparation necessary to go to trial is in a much better bargaining position than one that doesn't. When prosecutors know that your attorney is fully prepared to go to trial, you'll be more likely to get a favorable plea deal or to have your charges dismissed entirely.