If you have been charged with a crime, you want to retain a lawyer immediately. You will want someone who has expertise in criminal defense because it is a highly specialized area of the law.
If you can't afford to hire a lawyer in a criminal defense matter, a lawyer known as a "public defender" will be appointed for you. However, if you are looking to hire a criminal defense lawyer in private practice, one of the best places to start your search is here at lawyers.com.
You can do a free search to come up with a list of lawyers by using the Find A Lawyer search box that can be accessed anywhere on lawyers.com. (You should see a search box on the right side of your computer screen.)
If you do a seach for a criminal defense lawyer but don't pull up any names, expand your search to other nearby cities. Also, follow the search tips provided in response to your unsuccessful search, or click on Search Help.
Once you are able to pull up a list of lawyers, look at each lawyer's profile by clicking on his or her name, or by clicking on the link to "More info . . ." that appears next to each listing. If the lawyer has a Web site, check it out by clicking on the link provided in the profile.
Next, use the following guidelines to do some initial screening and narrow your list of lawyers down to three or four prospective candidates:
- Look at biographical information, including whatever you can find on Web sites for the lawyers and their law firms. Do they appear to have expertise in the area of criminal law that you need? Do they have any information on their Web sites that is helpful to you? Do they belong to any reputable associations in the area of expertise that you need?
- Use search engines to surf the Internet. Do searches under the name of each lawyer and his or her law firm. Can you find any articles, FAQ's or other informational pieces that the lawyer has done that give you a level of comfort?
- Ask other people if they have heard of the lawyers and what they think about them.
- Contact your state bar association or visit their Web site to find out if the lawyers are in good standing.
- Check out the yellow pages of your telephone directory. Do the lawyers advertise? If so, do you find it compelling? Helpful? Tasteful?
- Check out the online archives of your local newspaper. Has there been any publicity about the lawyers or the cases that they have handled?
- Consider any special needs you have. For example, would you benefit from an attorney who speaks a language other than English?
Don't eliminate a lawyer just because he or she didn't have the time to meet with you on short notice. Good lawyers are busy so they may not be able to spend as much time as they would like with prospective clients.
Consider the lawyer's staff. Good lawyers have good people working with them and they may delegate a lot of responsibility to their staff. At a minimum, you should expect to be treated courteously and professionally by the staff in a lawyer's office.
Criminal defense lawyers will almost always charge by the hour, or by a flat fee that is payable up front. Rules of professional conduct for your state quite likely prohibit a lawyer from entering into a contingent fee agreement for a criminal action. Rates can be competitive so it may be to your benefit to shop around. However, lawyers with a good reputation in this area are going to charge more. With your freedom possibly on the line, it may be worthwhile to pay more for a lawyer or a law firm with a great reputation.
You will probably want to hire a lawyer with at least a few years of experience, and especially one with experience in the type of prosecution you are facing, like traffic offenses, drug crimes, sex offenses or white collar crimes.
Criminal cases are often resolved by plea agreements with the district attorney's office. This may require that the lawyer have a good working relationship with the prosecuting attorney, or to at least have a reputation that commands respect. Thus, you will want a lawyer who appears frequently in the jurisdiction your case is in: federal or state, and, if state, in the particular county where you are charged.
Look to see if a lawyer is affiliated with associations that cater to your needs, like the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers . Most states have state organizations that are similar, as do many large cities.
Unless there are special circumstances, you will want to hire a lawyer with a local office. Since many criminal matters might arise in a jurisdiction where you don't actually live, you may need to hire an attorney local to the criminal prosecution, rather than local to your home.
Before You Hire a Lawyer
- Ask for references. You want to talk to people who could comment on the lawyer's skills and trustworthiness.
- Ask for a copy of a firm brochure and promotional materials. If they are available, crosscheck these materials against other sources and references.
- Ask to be provided with a copy of the lawyer's retainer agreement and have it explained to you before decide on retaining the lawyer or the lawyer's law firm. You may end up paying a lot of money to the lawyer so make sure you understand what you are signing up for.
- Use your common sense and gut instincts to evaluate the remaining lawyers on your list. You'll want to be comfortable with the lawyer you hire. You will also want to choose the lawyer who you think will do the best job for you.