How to Choose a Criminal Defense Attorney

July 2, 2010

        Being arrested or informed they are the subject of a criminal investigation can create one of the most stressful situations a person can face in their lifetime. Relationships with loved ones, present and future employment, and even one’s freedom are all placed in peril, often times in an instant. As a result, it is critical that the accused person obtains experienced and competent legal counsel to guide them them through the criminal process and obtain the best possible outcome which causes the least short and long term detrimental effects upon their lives.

But how does one go about choosing the best criminal attorney to handle such critical issues ???

EXPERIENCE IS CRITICAL, BUT WHAT KIND ?
         The phone book is littered with attorneys who advertise their many memberships in legal associations and experience in handling “thousands” of cases. While this information might appear impressive, the inquiry must go much further for a person to find the right attorney for their particular circumstances, charges and jurisdiction.
  Many advertisements contain statements that the attorney has handled “thousands” of cases. This is particularly true of attorneys who previously worked as a prosecutor or public defender. While not misleading, you need to ask the attorney to qualify this assertion. How many cases did they personally handle ? How many of those cases actually proceeded to a jury trial ?

Believe it or not, there are many attorneys who have actually “handled” hundreds or “thousands” of cases, but have tried only a small fraction of those cases. While there must be more to the inquiry than trial experience, no one would want to choose a surgeon to perform an operation who had only observed many such procedures in the past.

BACKGROUND CHECK RESOURCES
  All attorneys are required to be a member of their state’s Bar Association. In Florida, the Bar’s website, www.flabar.org, provides information as to the attorney’s membership, areas of specialization and if they have ever been the subject of any disciplinary proceedings.
  In addition, Martindale Hubbell, provides a peer rating for each lawyer for ethics,experience and competence. A “CV” rating usually indicates the attorney is new to the practice of law, usually less than 5 years. A “BV” rating indicates an ethical lawyer with average competence and experience, and an “AV” rating indicates the attorney has been recognized as “Pre-eminent ” in his practice with many years of recognized excellence by his or her fellow attorneys and judges. These ratings can be obtained at www.martindale.com.

LOCAL COUNSEL ? HOW IMPORTANT?
While the same substantive laws and procedural rules apply throughout the State of Florida, it may be advisable to focus your search on attorneys who have practiced extensively in the same jurisdiction where the charges are located. While familiarity with the local rules, procecutors and judges does not guarantee a more favorable outcome, it can foster a more streamlined and efficient handling of your case.

BUT HOW MUCH WILL IT COST ?   Most criminal attorneys work on a “set” fee basis, whereunder they require an up front fee payment for their services rather than an hourly rate. Most times this arrangement benefits the client, in that the attorney agrees to perform all work for that set fee for the entirety of the case. One distinction, which we employ at the Heyman Law Firm, is to quote a “two-tiered” fee under which a set fee is required up until the case is set for trial, and if the client wishes to proceed to trial, an additional fee is due.     Defense costs, customarily expended for subpoenaes, depositions, private investigators, etc is owed in addition to the attorney’s fee.

IS THE ATTORNEY RESPONSIVE TO CLIENT ?
Any client should expect their attorney to keep them reasonably informed regarding any significant developments in their case and respond to inquiries in a timely fashion. This can best be determined by referrals from previous clients and should be affirmatively promised by the attorney at the time of the inital interview.

Being arrested is both traumatic and potentially life changing. By retaining an experienced, respected and local attorney to guide the case through the criminal system, much of that intial fear and stress can be alleviated and a favorable outcome obtained.