5 Questions to Ask a Criminal Defense Attorney Before Hiring
If you have been charged with a criminal offense, the Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to counsel.
Some people elect to go with a public defender and these lawyers are usually very good.
However, a public defender is not always a possibility.
On the other hand, many prefer to have their own lawyer; a private attorney that is usually more accessible than a public defender with other advantages, as well.
However, it’s always important to not only be a smart shopper, but an educated consumer, whether you are in the market for a washing machine or a criminal defense attorney.
Here are some questions to ask during your initial consultation:
How Many Cases Have You Tried?
Do not just ask about years of legal experience.
Many attorneys have been practicing criminal law for years, but they have little trial experience. As a result, they are not as effective as they should be.
The late Grant Cooper is a good example. He was Sirhan Sirhan’s lawyer in his trial for the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. Cooper was an experienced attorney, but he was more of a celebrity lawyer.
For example, he was Shirley Temple’s lawyer in her divorce from John Wayne’s sidekick, John Agar. So, he may not have been as aggressive as he should have been in Sirhan’s defense. There were some holes in the prosecutor’s case which, for whatever reason, Cooper did not try to exploit.
To properly evaluate the merits of your case, your attorney needs substantial trial experience. That’s the only way to identify valid defenses and leverage them to your benefit.
That leverage could result in a very favorable plea bargain agreement or a not-guilty verdict at trial.
How Much of Your Practice is Devoted to Criminal Law?
For many attorneys, criminal law is a sideshow. They may defend a few existing clients here and there but otherwise, they may have little interest in criminal law and may be unfamiliar with all the procedural nuances.
Furthermore, if their criminal law practice is limited, the attorney may have little passion for criminal defense. Unless the lawyer has a pre-existing financial or emotional relationship with the client, the attorney may care little about the issues involved.
At the same time, there is nothing wrong with diversification.
In fact, in many cases, diversity is a good sign. If the attorney excels in several different areas, that’s the kind of fighter you want in your corner.
The 75 percent marker is a good rule of thumb. If the attorney’s practice is significantly more than 75 percent criminal law, or significantly less, it’s probably a good idea to keep looking.
How Much Do You Charge?
This question is probably one of the most important ones.
It is not higher on this list because, when partnering with a professional who holds your future in his or her hands, price should not be the only consideration. So technically, there is a difference between a hiring an attorney and buying a washing machine.
In Texas, attorneys charge varying fees depending on several factors. For example, when setting a fee, an attorney might take into account:
The difficulty of the case,
Amount of experience the lawyer has,
Number of hours the job will probably take,
Amount of work, if any, the attorney would have to give up to take your case, and
The client’s ability to pay (i.e. a sliding scale fee).
Just like you looked for practice area ranges, look for price ranges.
If a lawyer charges significantly more than other attorneys, there had better be a good reason. For example, an attorney with an extensive background in criminal law might charge more than someone else. The reverse is also true. If an attorney charges significantly less than the competition, there’s probably a reason for that too. Perhaps the lawyer is discounting fees to attract clients.
Must I Attend All Hearings?
This is a trick question, and “I don’t know” is the best possible answer.
In Harris County, some criminal law judges require defendants to be present at all hearings, whether they are procedural or substantive. These judges’ figure that the cases will wrap up sooner if the defendants share the burden.
Other judges believe that it’s better for defendants to work and earn money. Therefore, they do not require defendants to appear at procedural hearings.
So, during your free consultation, there’s probably no way to tell whether you’ll need to appear or not. Typically, the case has not been fined in a court yet, and the county randomly assigns judges to different cases.
If a lawyer does not know the answer, or should not know the answer, and gives you one anyway, that’s a very bad sign.
What Are My Options?
Typically, your options are a plea or a trial. Depending on the facts of the case and your circumstances, either option could be a good one.
A plea bargain is not a negotiated surrender. It’s more like a mutually beneficial contract negotiation. Trials are risky for both prosecutors and defense attorneys. If there is a way to avoid them, and have more control over the outcome, it’s usually a good idea to at least explore the opportunity.
However, if the prosecutor will not work with the defense attorney on something like a greatly reduced sentence, lesser charges, or pretrial diversion, is usually a better option.
Your future should never be for sale to the lowest bidder.
An experienced attorney will answer all your questions and listen to all the facts of your case. Then, working together, the two of you should formulate a plan of action.
Work with a Dedicated Criminal Defense Lawyer
Your criminal case is much too important to leave anything to chance. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Houston, contact Jim Medley Defense Lawyer.