How to Choose a Defense Attorney


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Just like you wouldn’t visit a podiatrist to treat an ear infection, you shouldn’t go to a tax attorney if you want to sue the driver who rear-ended your car. There are many areas of law and a lot of different types of lawyers who deal with them. When your freedom is on the line, it’s important to seek the correct representation.

But once you’ve narrowed down the list from all lawyers to only criminal defense attorneys, how do you choose? Here are some things to consider when selecting a defense lawyer.

Where Do I Find a Defense Attorney?

Whether you are being investigated for a crime or have already been charged, you want to have the best criminal defense lawyer you can afford fighting for you. A good place
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to start is by asking people you trust for referrals, including friends (if you feel like you can talk with them about your case), family members, and non-criminal defense attorneys that you may know. These individuals are a great resource because, rather than just gathering a list of names, you can ask questions about their suggestions such as whether the attorney was on time for appointments, reasonably available to answer questions and organized.

If the thought of sharing personal details with acquaintances makes you uncomfortable, you can anonymously visit countless websites online. The American Bar Association has state-specific information and there are several professional associations specializing in criminal defense (the National Academy of Criminal Defense Attorneys, the Association of Federal Defense Attorneys and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers are just a few). Independent legal referral websites also offer a ton of information.

Check out:
• Avvo
• FindLaw
• LawHelp

A list of three or four possible attorneys is sufficient. If you find yourself overwhelmed with choices, consider researching whether the lawyer has had any publicity, your reaction to their advertising, and how many cases they have handled that are similar to yours. Years in practice do not necessarily correspond to years of experience. For example, a criminal defense lawyer who has been in practice for ten years may have handled many more criminal cases than a general practitioner or civil attorney who has been in practice for thirty. Look for a lawyer who has worked on cases like yours, and is personally acquainted with the prosecutors, judges, and procedures in your area,

Choosing One

Once you’ve narrowed down the list, it’s often time to set up face-to-face meetings, although in a pinch (for example, if you get arrested and taken to jail one night and have your first court appearance the next day) much can be done over the phone or via video conference such as FaceTime or Skype. Many lawyers offer a free initial consultation. Bring along a summary of your case with details such as when you were arrested, the circumstances of the arrest, what the charges are and whether anyone else was involved. This consultation should help you understand the charges, what the prosecutor must prove or establish to find you guilty, the available defenses, any key pretrial issues, what plea bargains might be offered and the possible consequences you may face. It is important to have a lawyer who puts in sufficient time to learn about your case and plan your defense, so if you don’t feel comfortable with his or her analysis, that may be a red flag. While a lawyer can give you an idea of possible outcomes, he or she cannot promise a certain result. Any criminal defense attorney that does is not someone you should choose, because the result cannot be guaranteed in advance – it hinges on negotiations with the prosecutor at best, and a judge and jury at worst.

Costs should also be considered and are generally based on the case’s complexity. Criminal defense lawyers often charge a flat fee paid in advance, and sometimes by the hour, or by a hybrid of the two. Contingency fee arrangements, which are based on the attorney's achieving certain results, are not allowed in criminal defense cases. The lawyer’s fee is different from filing fees and similar court costs, so make sure you know what services you will be charged for and how much they will cost before you sign the retainer agreement.

Can’t I Represent Myself?

The Sixth Amendment of the Constitution gives you the right to represent yourself during criminal trial proceedings, but you are required to know and follow the court rules and the law. Since the stakes are high in criminal proceedings, having knowledgeable legal assistance is crucial. We’ve all seen the Hollywood version of a criminal trial. While the details are usually sensationalized for entertainment purposes, the basic procedural aspects are often accurate. Defense attorneys can instruct you during pre-trial investigations so you don’t reveal anything incriminating, help get your charges dropped based on insufficient evidence or improper procedure, try to persuade the court to reduce or waive your bail, represent you during plea negotiations to increase your chances of receiving a reduced punishment, plan a defense strategy, navigate the standard steps of a criminal trial, and assist you with the appeals process if necessary.

The attorney-client relationship is built upon trust. You should select a criminal defense attorney that you are comfortable with, one that you feel you can tell anything he or she wishes to know. To learn what a criminal defense attorney can do for you, schedule a consultation with one today.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Carman
Focusing on criminal matters, Mr. Carman is admitted to practice law in all Courts of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the United States District Courts for the Eastern and Western Districts of Kentucky, and the United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit. He is a member of the American, Kentucky, and Fayette County Bar Associations.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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