Being arrested or charged with a criminal offense can be traumatic, scary and stressful. As the law enforcement officer states the charges and reads you your rights, you may recall old TV crime shows where the defendant is found guilty and sent to jail – sometimes because his attorney was inexperienced or incompetent.
Don’t let that happen to you. If you’ve been charged with a crime, no matter how serious, you should hire an experienced criminal attorney. Here are eight tips to help you select the right attorney.
Criminal, Not Civil. Many attorneys handle civil cases related to common, every-day matters, like buying a home, drafting a will or finalizing a divorce. Hiring a civil lawyer to defend you when you’re facing criminal charges is not only foolish but potentially life-altering.
When Possible, Hire Local. There’s no substitute for having an attorney with solid relationships in the local courthouse. It’s a great benefit to you if your lawyer is familiar with local police officers, prosecuting attorneys and judges and has experience negotiating deals with them that benefits his/her clients.
Connection and Trust. You’re not looking for your best friend, but you need a person that you can talk with openly and that you can trust. To a large degree, you’re placing your future in this person’s hands.
Communication & Responsiveness. Does the attorney explain the law, the judicial process, and what to expect at each stage of the process in a way that you can understand? Does your attorney reply promptly to your requests for help?
Court Confidence. It’s one thing to talk about criminal law. It’s another to practice law in the courtroom. Trials move quickly and an attorney often has only a few seconds before deciding to make an objection. How much time courtroom experience does the attorney have? Does he/she talk about the courtroom like going to the dentist or going to a rock concert?
Caring. Does your attorney genuinely care about you? How can you trust someone to protect your rights and interests if they don’t care about you?
Check Sources. Most state bar associations provide information on attorneys, including a list of those who have been formally disciplined.
Remember Who’s the Boss. Does your attorney consider you to be the client or a student? You will want to lean heavily on their advice regarding legal tactics and strategies. In the end, however, it’s your life. Your attorney won’t be going to jail if found guilty.