If you’re facing criminal charges, today may be one of the scariest days of your life, and you’re probably feeling too overwhelmed to compare and contrast defense attorneys. You need help from someone today.
A lot of people, when they’re in this situation, call the first law office that pops up in Google, or they call someone whose number appears on a lot of billboards around town. This is understandable.
But choosing a criminal defense attorney quickly won’t always help. In fact, it could hurt your case.
Mounting a legal defense against criminal charges is important — it’s important enough for you to take a deep breath and to spend at least a few minutes considering your options. This article can help.
When you’re facing criminal charges, fear and frustration are normal feelings. In fact, they’re a healthy response to the stress you’re under. Some defense attorneys might use your normal, anxious feelings to inspire a quick decision — a decision that works best for the attorney but not necessarily best for you.
How can you avoid putting yourself in this situation? By taking control of your search for a criminal defense lawyer rather than hiring attorneys who control the conversation by reaching out to you.
You can take control by making sure the attorneys you’re considering offer the following qualities:
Criminal defense experience
Unless you’re a lawyer, a judge, or a paralegal, all lawyers might seem interchangeable. In reality, the best attorneys focus on specific areas of the law, such as criminal defense or personal injury. That way they can become experts on the nuances of their specialty.
A lawyer’s specialty is particularly important when you’re looking for a criminal defense attorney. Someone who has no experience in criminal law will have to learn about this specialty along the way, as he or she navigates your case. You don’t want that.
Instead, you need someone who has handled criminal defense cases before, someone who knows your rights — and knows how to protect them — without always having to look them up first.
Local criminal defense experience
Criminal defense experience is a must. What’s even better is an attorney who has criminal defense experience in your jurisdiction. These attorneys know the law, and they also know most of the people who make the law work in your community.
To be clear, a locally connected lawyer can’t use those connections to get special treatment for your case, but your defense lawyer’s local connections can still help you.
Like a lot of professions, the legal profession is based on relationships: relationships between judges, prosecutors, clerks, law enforcement, and other attorneys in the community. A lawyer who has more connections has more ways to advocate for you.
A record of success
An attorney’s connections and experience matter, but at the end of the day, experience and connections are simply tools of the trade. The best criminal defense attorneys know how to use these tools to achieve a specific goal: success defending you against your charges.
So when you’re facing criminal charges, you want an attorney who has succeeded not only in front of a judge but also as a negotiator outside of the courtroom.
On the surface, success looks different for every case, so it can be hard to measure. But attorneys who succeed in criminal defense cases usually exhibit the following measurable qualities: hard work, willingness to investigate your case thoroughly, and a desire to see the entire case through the lens of what’s most important to you, the client.
Good communication skills
One of the benefits of working with a skilled, experienced, and hard-working defense attorney is the peace of mind you gain from having a capable advocate in your corner. Peace of mind can be a priceless commodity when you’re facing criminal charges.
A lot of this peace of mind stems from your attorney’s communication skills. Defense attorneys who communicate well will make sure you understand any and all legal proceedings that affect your case.
Some really good attorneys struggle to communicate well with their clients. If you’re interviewing an attorney and struggling to understand what he or she is talking about, you should stop the conversation and ask for clarification.
The same is true after you’ve hired an attorney. You have the right to know exactly what’s going on with your case. You also have the right to make your own decisions. You can make better decisions when you have up-to-date information.
Facing criminal charges means you’re juggling more immediate problems than paying your future bills. But, attorneys are professional service providers. Just like your plumber, electrician, or auto mechanic, attorneys have to bill for their services.
If you don’t want to be surprised by a bill later, be sure to discuss the attorney’s fees before hiring him or her to represent you. An attorney who doesn’t want to discuss billing with you may not be a good fit for you — especially if you like knowing, upfront, what rate you’ll be paying.
A solid reputation
If the criminal defense attorney you’re considering checks all the boxes we’ve already discussed, the attorney is most likely a well respected member of your local legal community. Still, it never hurts to do a little checking.
If you know other members of the legal profession — an attorney you worked with on a divorce or will, for example — ask that attorney for his or her opinion about the defense lawyer you’re considering.
Online forums might also provide information, but keep in mind these reviews are personal and usually biased. One or two bad reviews don’t reflect accurately on the attorney’s skill and dedication. However, if every review is overwhelmingly negative, pay attention.
We get it. You may be too overwhelmed by the stress of your pending charges to thoughtfully interview several defense attorney candidates. But even if you talk to only one attorney, ask some of the following questions. The answers can help you see whether the attorney you’re considering would be a good fit.
It’s OK if the attorney doesn’t focus exclusively on criminal defense. Many good defense attorneys also handle civil cases. But you don’t want to be your attorney’s only criminal defense client.
“Last month” is a great answer to this question. “Last year” is OK, too. But if it’s been a few years since the attorney dealt with a case like yours, you may need to look elsewhere for representation.
Your case may not make it to trial, but if it does, you’ll want a lawyer who’s been in the courtroom before. If you think there’s a chance your case will be decided by a jury, ask your defense attorney about his or her experience in the courtroom. It’s OK to ask how the trial went and whether it was a success for the defendant.
An attorney’s answer to this question can tell you a lot about several aspects of your representation. First, the answer can show your attorney’s comfort level with criminal defense law in general. If the attorney has no strong opinion about your case, he or she may not have much comparable experience with cases like yours. The answer can also show his or her outlook on your prospects for a good outcome.
Most attorneys work with other attorneys, paralegals, and other members of their staff. But you have the right to know all the players on your team. You also have the right to expect your attorney — the person with the experience and knowledge — to be directing the team by calling the shots.
As a criminal defendant, your lawyer will shape your case. He or she will advocate for you in ways you may not always fully understand. Because of the nature of this relationship, you have to work with an attorney you trust.
Like all feelings, trust can be tricky. A lawyer who checks every box — decades of criminal defense experience, success in front of a jury, excellent communication skills, and transparent fees, for example — might not check the “trust” box for you.
That’s OK. You don’t have to understand why you feel that way. You get to decide who represents you during this uncertain period of your life. You owe it to yourself to find someone who is qualified and worthy of your trust.
Since 1988, the Allen and Allen Law Firm has been defending residents of Anderson County and the Upstate of South Carolina against federal and state charges ranging from DUIs, drug charges, robbery, murder, weapons charges, and traffic violations.
We have decades of success representing clients in the courtroom and at the negotiating table. We know your rights, and you can count on us to protect them while informing you of all your legal options.
We understand that criminal charges impact your personal and professional life in profound ways. That’s why we work so hard to help reduce the consequences you may be facing.