If you are the suspect in a criminal investigation, you probably want to find the best attorney you can afford. But how do you do that?
First, you have to narrow down the attorneys that you want to interview. There are thousands of criminal defense attorneys, and you simply don’t have time to meet with all of them. Narrow your list down to just a few law firms. You do this by asking your family or friends who they recommend, asking an attorney you may know for a recommendation, or by researching criminal attorneys online. Once you have narrowed your list to around 3 firms that interest you, begin scheduling face to face meetings. Take the time to meet with the attorney. Show them that the case is important enough to you for you to take time to meet. Most attorneys will meet with you at little or no charge, but ask if there is any fee when you schedule the appointment, just to be sure.
Once you have a chance to meet with the attorney, we believe there are three primary questions you should ask any law firm prior to making a hiring decision.
1. Has your firm ever handled this type of case?
People are often most familiar with the personal injury attorneys that advertise on TV and have large billboards. While they may be good at what they do, most of them don’t practice criminal defense law, and probably wouldn’t represent you even if you wanted them to. Just because the attorney has a law degree, doesn’t mean they have experience in your specific type of case. You may like being a guinea pig, but we doubt it. All things being equal, who in their right mind wants to be an attorney’s first case if their freedom is on the line? No one.
2. Has your firm ever been successful with this type of case?
Just because a law firm has handled the same type of case, doesn’t mean they know what they are doing. The next question you want to ask is whether that law firm ever SUCCESSFULLY handled this type of case. If they say they have, ask for examples. They usually are allowed to provide the names of cases, as long as those are public record. However, due to rules regarding the attorney-client privilege they may not be able to give you specific names of former clients they have assisted with similar cases that weren’t public, but they should be able to give you examples of cases, without disclosing names. If they have handled 10,000 of this type of case and lost every one, you may want to look for a different law firm.
While you want someone that has experience and has been successful, be careful of any attorney that makes you a GUARANTEE that they will win your case. It is unethical to make such guarantee, and no attorney can accurately predict what a jury will do 18 months down the road. Any attorney that makes such a guarantee is just trying to close the sale and get you to pay them.
3. How much will your services cost?
Only after you have determined that the law firm you are talking with has experience in successfully handling your type of case should you consider paying them any money. Also, you may discover that you simply cannot afford their services.
Ask for a retainer agreement. Most reputable law firms will present you with a client contract or retainer agreement which details the terms of representation. If they don’t do this, you should ask them to put in writing how much they are charging you and what this payment covers.
For instance, Alabama law allows attorneys to represent clients for a limited purpose, such as a bond hearing or preliminary hearing. You want to make sure that if you are hiring the attorney to take the case all the way to trial, that they can’t later say they need more money.
You should only hire that attorney if you truly believe you will be able to afford them. It is not a good idea to have an attorney representing you on such a serious matter, while you are failing to pay them for their services. Eventually, that attorney will try to withdraw from your case. Too often we see clients pay money for an attorney, that they later cannot afford, and they have to start over after paying thousands of dollars to another attorney. In some cases, they are left with the public defender.
In closing, make sure you hire the most experienced and successful law firm you can afford for your specific case. The right attorney can make all the difference in the results.