Although most of us strive to stay on the right side of the law, it’s not impossible to end up in a situation where you need a criminal defense attorney.
We’ve put together a quick guide that details how to find a criminal lawyer. Let’s explore what you should know about how to find the best criminal defense attorney.
Do They Specialize in Criminal Law?
As you might have guessed, it’s critical that you hire an attorney that specializes in criminal defense law. Otherwise, you run the risk of hiring somebody who is incapable of effectively defending you against criminal charges brought by the government.
A common mistake that people make is attempting to find the cheapest lawyer possible. Lawyers can be understandably expensive. There are a number of factors that can possibly affect the potential cost to defend a case. To name just a few variables that drive costs are the nature of the charges (DUI v. murder), the number of victims or defendants, the complexity of the case, and the amount of discovery produced (also known as the discovery produced by the government), It is not uncommon for people accused of a crime to hire an attorney that lacks experience in defending against specific types of crime. There are lots of criminal defense lawyers who may want to be retained to defend a homicide case but never have. You should ask yourself: “if I’m charged with murder—facing 25 years to life—do I want to be their first?
Another important question to ask yourself is this: “how much is my liberty worth to me?” Most people cannot put a price on a month, or 1 year in prison. What is 3, 5, or 10 or more years in prison worth to you? It’s always better to budget for an experienced, proven, and respected criminal defense attorney than it is to try and save money or cut corners. Because more likely than not, you will get what you pay for.
Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to find out the attorney you are thinking of hiring has the experience and ability to effectively defend your case. It’s probably safe to assume that, more often than not, an attorney who does not have information on their website that involves the crime you are charged with is not someone you should reach out to represent you.
Are They Communicative?
Communication matters—a lot. No matter how skilled or experienced your attorney might be, you won’t enjoy working with them if they aren’t communicating with you early and often. Put simply, the lawyer you choose to work with should be responsive to you whenever you reach out to them.
It’s not uncommon for a proficient legal team to respond to you within 24-48 hours. Your defense attorney should respond to phone calls, emails, or text messages in a timely manner. Indeed, attorneys in California are required by the rules of ethics to communicate with their clients regarding important and material matters in their cases. Failure to communicate significant events in your case (for example, an offer is made by the prosecutor for a plea agreement, or new charges are being added to the complaint) could be grounds for discipline by the State Bar of California. Unfortunately, however, far too many attorneys fail to provide timely updates and communicate with their clients.
Since some attorneys work on a higher volume of cases than others, there’s no set amount of time that you should expect them to respond. If you find that you go days without hearing back from your lawyer, however, there’s a chance that your attorney will be equally lax when it comes to defending you (unless they’re either on vacation or in trial; even then, your attorney should let you know such things in advance to avoid these sort of communication issues in the first place).
How Are Their Past Reviews?
One of the easiest ways to gain insight into a particular attorney’s credibility and experience is by consulting online reviews. You should always maintain a healthy amount of skepticism when doing so.
Reviews that are overly positive or overly negative are often not a good indicator of the service that you can expect. It’s not uncommon for firms (or their marketers) to post misleading reviews in order to boost their own reputation.
Similarly, disgruntled clients or industry competitors might post fake negative reviews in order to lower their overall rating.
In general, a good rule of thumb is to look for the reviews with the most detail; they are usually the best way to gauge what type of service you will receive. If you find that a law firm doesn’t have enough reviews for you to make your decision, consider researching them elsewhere on the internet (e.g., social media sites like Google, Facebook, Avvo, Yelp, and so on) to see what people have to say. You can also run a Google search to see if the lawyer you are thinking about hiring has had notable or well-publicized cases, teaches at a law school, or has received any legal awards.
Have They Been Successful in the Courtroom?
Most importantly, you are going to want to know what kind of results a specific lawyer has achieved for similar cases with similar charges. Not every criminal case goes to trial. Indeed, most don’t. 97% of criminal cases resolve by way of a plea bargain and do not go to trial. But, there is always the possibility that a case will. This means that your lawyer needs to be comfortable and skilled in the courtroom.
It is perfectly acceptable to ask the lawyer you are thinking about hiring how many jury trials they have done, how many involved the charges you are charged with, how did they come out, and when was their last jury trial. Wouldn’t you like to know that if your case goes to trial, that your lawyer has actually tried a case like this before? Here’s another way to think about it: if you needed to have a serious and complex brain surgery, you should know some basic facts about the doctor that is going to perform this potentially life-threatening operation. Is this their first brain surgery, or their 100th? Have they performed this type of operation in the past and with what kind of outcomes? What is their reputation among other brain surgeons? What do former patients have to say about your doctor? The same holds true for your potential criminal defense lawyer.
As discussed above, a person’s liberty is invaluable. You should know who you are hiring and be comfortable knowing that you’re in the right hands when placing your life and liberty in them. Suffering a criminal conviction can potentially affect the rest of a person’s life. Aside from exposure to incarceration, there are several other collateral consequences of a felony conviction, including but not limited to: loss of employment, loss of professional license, potential damage to important relationships with family and friends, damage to your reputation, loss of your right to purchase or own a gun, to vote, to serve on a jury, and possible removal or deportation for non-citizens, just to name a few. No matter the crime, one moment of being in the wrong place at the wrong time can have ever-lasting effects that can haunt you for the rest of your life. Retaining the right lawyer is absolutely critical to ensure that you minimize the potential negative consequences as much as possible.
What Is the Billing Structure Like?
Most attorneys have a clearly outlined billing structure. But, there are lawyers whose fees aren’t as well-defined.
In the latter scenario, you could find yourself with numerous charges when you receive your final bill. For example, your lawyer may be willing to respond to emails or text messages after business hours but not convey that you are getting charged extra for them to do so.
To avoid these situations, have a thorough discussion with your attorney about their billing structure and ask them any questions or concerns you might have. How your case costs are broken down, who pays for services like investigators and experts, and when money is due should be crystal clear to you in the contract (retainer agreement). If it isn’t, you should demand it be included. If the attorney is unwilling to include common-sense terms that make you uncomfortable, you may want to steer clear.
Understanding How to Find the Best Criminal Defense Attorney Can Seem Difficult
By keeping the above information in mind, you’ll be better equipped to ensure that the legal process goes as smoothly as possible. From here, you’ll know exactly how to find the best criminal defense attorney for your specific situation.
Want to learn more about what we have to offer? Feel free to reach out to us today and see how we can help. David Silldorf of David Silldorf Law has over 14 years’ experience defending individuals against serious criminal charges in state and federal court. His results and client reviews speak for themselves. Don’t wait until the last minute before your appearance date, and don’t try and cut corners. Hiring an experienced criminal defense lawyer in San Diego with a proven track record of success is an investment in your own future.