Chances are if you need a defense attorney, you don’t have a lot of time to find one that’s a good fit. It’s important, however, to conduct due diligence so that you partner with someone who will look out for your best interests and has the experience to ensure as positive an outcome as possible.
The most effective way to vet and hire a good defense attorney is to schedule several in-person meetings. You can research various lawyers online, but you’ll want to arm yourself with questions to ask when you do have that meeting.
Never be afraid to ask questions, and if the attorney’s answers raise red flags, or your gut tells you that it’s not a relationship you want to pursue, there’s nothing wrong with walking away. Here is a list of questions designed to help you narrow your options and find the best defense attorney for you.
Background and experience
- Where did you attend law school, and when did you graduate?
- How long have you been practicing law?
- What is your familiarity with the charges against me, and what percentage of your practice is spent representing clients charged with the same crime?
- What is the frequency with which you negotiate plea agreements with the prosecutor’s office – and what’s your relationship with the prosecutor’s office?
- Do you practice often in the courthouse where my case is or will be?
- Have you ever been sanctioned for or accused of attorney misconduct?
- Have you ever worked as a prosecutor? Criminal defense attorneys with previous experience as prosecutors will have more trial experience; they’ll know the type of attacks to expect and often have more credibility with the current prosecutor.
- How many jury trials have you participated in within the last three years? If there’s a possibility that your case could go to trial, it’s a good idea to partner with a lawyer who’s had recent experience—and is shaper—than someone who hasn’t been in a courtroom in a while and may be a bit rusty.
- How many jury trials have you participated in over your career? Often, prosecutors make plea bargains based on what they think they’ll get if the case goes to a juried trial. If a prosecutor knows that the defense attorney has little experience or fears a trial, the prosecutor will be less likely to reduce the charges or make plea bargaining easier on the defendant.
- What are my legal options? Do you recommend a guilty plea, plea agreement, or going to trial? Why?
- What aspects of my case work in my favor? How and why?
- What are the potential problems you foresee? How do you recommend we navigate those problems?
- What can I expect in the different stages of my case, from arraignment, filing of motions, motion hearing, disposition, and trial?
- Do you have any conflicts of interest? If so, what are they and how do you propose we handle them?
- Will you represent me or will there be other members of your staff involved? If so, can I meet them? What are their levels of experience, and what percentage of the work on my case will they be doing?
- If my case goes to trial, who will represent me in court? If it will be one of your associates, please introduce me and provide me with their credentials.
- If I have questions, whom do I contact? How do I contact you and your colleagues? How quickly do you typically respond?
- What are my obligations? What documents must I provide to help build the case? What kind of things must I disclose?
- Do you offer a free initial consultation?
- Do you charge an hourly or flat fee?
- Do you require a retainer fee and if so, how does it work? Can you provide me with a copy of your retainer agreement so I can review it?
- IF you charge a flat fee, what does it include? Is there anything it does not include? Is it refundable? Must I pay it all up front?
- Are there other expenses outside of the fee you charge? If so, can you give me an estimate now, before I sign a contract with you?
- Do you offer payment plans to help pay for the fee?
- If you blew into a breath testing advice, ask whether the attorney has tried breath cases before (and their outcomes). Prosecution must always meet specific requirements for the data to be admissible in court. Properly trained DUI/DWA lawyers will know what police/prosecutor errors or omissions to look for.
- If you had your blood drawn, ask whether the attorney has tried blood test cases before (and their outcomes). Many things can go wrong in a blood draw and there are specific things a phlebotomist must do to ensure the sample’s integrity and accuracy. There are viable defenses to blood draw results, so it’s important your lawyer knows what to look for and what questions to ask.
It’s also a good idea, provided that you have the time, to ask each lawyer to provide you with some references. Talking to past clients will give you a better idea of how the lawyer works. Doing your research will help you find and hire the right defense attorney – and even if your court date is a month or more away, it takes time to find a good match.