Ask the attorney the extent of his/her work background and experience?
When hiring an attorney, you are hiring someone that you can entrust your case with and someone who is qualified to aggressively defend your rights. Many attorneys will open their private practice right out of law school without absorbing the invaluable experience that comes from working at either a District Attorney’s Office or the Public Defender’s Office. Although many of these attorneys may be qualified in their own right, you want to seek an attorney who has cultivated his/her trial skills before opening up their own private practice. Prosecutors and public defenders spend their time in the courtroom on a daily basis. They are exposed to various types of cases and they handle a wide range of criminal matters. An attorney who has gained such experience before going into private practice is at an advantage. He/she has gained training and experience in the rules of evidence, the Penal Code, the Vehicle Code, the Health and Safety Code, etc.
How many jury trials has he or she engaged in?
Ask the attorney how many jury trials he/she has conducted or engaged in. This is a CRUCIAL issue. Many attorneys advertise that they are trial lawyers when they have not in fact completed a jury trial or they have only engaged in a bench trial or two. You should be weary of an attorney who has not taken any cases to jury trial. This should send a red flag because these types of attorneys are only interested in settling a case and not necessarily fighting for you or for your case. Depending on the circumstances, it is not always wise to push a case to trial if it is against your best interest. However, if you have valid defenses and you would like to fight your case, then you need to hire an attorney who is going to fight for you. You need an attorney who is not afraid to go to trial and who is confident and skilled in his/her courtroom abilities.
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Be cautious of lawyers who promise you that they’ll get you off.
You’ve been charged with a crime and you panic. You want to find an attorney who will help you fight for your rights and prepare a valid defense. You meet with an attorney who promises that he/she can get you off without even reading any of the arrest reports, without looking at all of the discovery, without talking to the prosecutor about the case. Be very cautious of these types of assurances or empty promises. Any attorney who tells you that he/she can get you off without considering the evidence that the prosecuting office has against you is not being truthful and forthright with you. It’s common sense. How can an attorney make such a promise without reviewing the discovery? How can an attorney promise you that you will get off when he/she cannot predict the future? Be very cautious of attorneys who make you promises and guarantees. Too often than not, clients complain about empty promises.
How much experience as a criminal lawyer he/she has? What portion of their practice is devoted to criminal law?
Often times, when people are charged with a crime, they turn to friends and family to see if they know of any lawyers. It is enticing to ask a family friend who happens to be a lawyer to handle your criminal case. The only problem is that the family friend practices an area of law which is completely different than criminal law. Although it seems convenient to ask your family friend for a favor, your best bet is to hire an attorney who handles predominantly criminal defense work. The best analogy to consider is that concerning your health. Let’s say that you need to get heart surgery but you decide to have your family doctor perform the actual surgery. You would not feel comfortable with that idea. Similarly, a criminal defense lawyer who only practices criminal defense will be more knowledgeable of the statutes, the negotiation process, the legal procedure, and what it takes to prepare for trial.
Will the attorney handle your case or will he hand it off to a paralegal or law clerk?
When you consult with an attorney, make sure to ask him/her whether your case will be handled by the actual attorney or whether it will be handed off to a junior attorney, paralegal, law clerk, or secretary. This is very important because often times, attorneys will quote you at a price but they will not explain to you whether your case will be handled by another person. Let’s say you develop a rapport with the attorney and you hired that attorney because you wanted him/her to take your case. A couple months later, you come to realize that the attorney that you hired to represent you is not dealing with your case at all. Instead, it’s being handled by a law clerk or a junior attorney. The problem arises when you thought you were paying for certain representation but your case is not being handled with the attention that you deserve.
What are the fees?
When meeting with an attorney for the first time, look for attorneys who will not charge you an initial consultation. It is during the initial consultation that you will have an opportunity to assess the attorney and to determine if he/she is someone that you can trust. This is your time to tell your side of the story. Pay attention as to whether the attorney seems interested in your case or whether he/she is only interested in payment. When it comes time to talk about pricing, ask the attorney what rate he/she charges. Does he charge a flat fee? Does he charge on an hourly basis? Ask whether the attorney charges additional pricing in the event that motions need to be filed on your behalf. Some attorneys charge a flat fee but neglect to tell you that you will have to pay more for motions, travel (i.e. gas or lodging), and interviewing witnesses. Also remember to ask whether the attorney offers payment plans. You can determine whether the attorney is willing to work with you and your budget.
Is the attorney a member of any professional or county bar associations?
Find out whether the attorney belongs to any professional or county bar associations. An attorney’s involvement with respect to professional or county bar associations reflect the attorney’s commitment to their area of law and the overall legal community. Some notable associations include the San Diego County Bar Association, San Diego Criminal Defense Bar Association, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Can you trust the attorney?
This is quite possibly the most important question to ask yourself when deciding whether to hire a particular attorney. At the end of the day, you want to be able to trust the attorney to fight for your best interests. When you speak to attorneys, ask yourself whether they are merely trying to lure you to retain their services by quoting you at the lowest, inexpensive rate. Do they seem more like used car salesmen as opposed to competent and honest attorneys? You want to hire an attorney who is sincere, honest, and easy to communicate with.