Being charged with a crime is a serious matter. A criminal charge can be frightening and overwhelming, and the next steps can seem uncertain if you are unrepresented. Criminal defense attorneys are such an important part of the United States criminal justice system that every criminal defendant has the right to an attorney. If you face criminal charges, you need the right criminal defense lawyer on your side. But what makes a good criminal defense lawyer?
There are some defining characteristics of a good criminal defense attorney. If you have a criminal case pending, you should not wait to consult with defense lawyers in your area to find the right one as soon as possible.
Why You Need an Attorney
If you are arrested and charged with a crime, you must decide if you want to hire an attorney. Finding a criminal defense lawyer is always the best step to take after an arrest and criminal charge – no matter the seriousness of the offense. Even seemingly minor charges can put your freedom and finances at risk, and you should never handle a case without the right defense help.
Some benefits of having a defense attorney include:
- An experienced professional is devoted to defending your case.
- You can rest assured that the state does not violate your rights and that your inexperience with the justice system does not work against you.
- Your criminal defense lawyer can use their resources to investigate the prosecutor’s claims against you.
- A criminal defense lawyer can hire expert witnesses that may help support your case.
Experience and Success Rate
An attorney with experience successfully representing people accused of crimes like the charges you face may give you the best opportunity for a successful outcome. A criminal charge is a serious matter, and you need an experienced advocate working for you from beginning to end. For instance, if you face charges of first-degree murder, you want an attorney who has tried a first-degree murder case before.
Do not be shy to ask about the attorney’s success rate. Some criminal charges make for complicated cases, and you need an attorney who knows the applicable law inside and out. Ask each criminal defense lawyer you interview about the number of cases they try or settle in a year. Also, ask about plea deals they have negotiated and even the average amount of jail time their clients serve. It is okay to ask the necessary questions, so you feel comfortable trusting the criminal defense attorneys’ legal advice.
Check the lawyer’s qualifications. In the United States, no one can practice law without a license issued by the state where they practice. You can find out if the attorney you want to hire has an active license by searching for their name on the state’s bar association website.
In addition to the licensure requirements, the criminal defense lawyer you choose should have mastery of the technical skills required to be an effective attorney. A criminal defense lawyer’s work includes time in the courtroom and written arguments made via motions filed in court. A qualified criminal defense lawyer should be an expert in legal writing, research, and the rules of criminal procedure.
Most criminal defense attorneys spend their time in the courtroom. Confidence is key, and your criminal defense lawyer should be confident in the courtroom. Confidence is persuasive. Your lawyer’s confidence will naturally be higher if they have courtroom experience than attorneys who do not spend as much time in courtrooms.
Your attorney’s style of argument and presentation to the judge or jury can help increase your chances of a successful outcome. Read client reviews. People are usually excited to describe an attorney’s actions if they find that the attorney is particularly confident and has a good style in the courtroom.
Board certification indicates that the attorney has mastery of criminal defense and criminal law and that the lawyer has shown advanced advocacy skills. A board-certified criminal defense lawyer likely has a lot of trial experience, including jury and bench trials, and probably has a reputation for being a professional in the legal community where they practice. The certifying agency is the state’s board of professional responsibility. You can search the board’s website to verify if the attorney is a board-certified criminal defense lawyer.
Good Communication Skills
You want a criminal defense attorney who is an excellent communicator. The outcome of your case can depend on your defense lawyer’s ability to effectively present your cause.
Communication is perhaps the most important part of legal representation. Communication is key to the success of your case from the moment you are arrested and charged with a crime until the trial ends. When your attorney speaks to the prosecutor, they use their communication skills to negotiate reduced charges or a plea deal. Your attorney must know how to argue clearly and persuasively to a judge or jury. Communication can make or break your case.
In addition to communicating with other parties, your criminal defense lawyer should keep you updated on the progress of your case and answer your questions. Before you choose an attorney to represent you in a criminal case, you should be sure that they can promptly respond to your emails and phone calls to fully answer your questions. Your criminal defense lawyer will work with a team at their office. Their team may include paralegals, legal assistants, admin, etc. The criminal defense lawyer’s team should also be good communicators.
A good criminal defense lawyer will have good professional relationships with the prosecutors, judges, and other criminal defense lawyers in your legal community. Judges and prosecutors do not need to be friends, but reputation matters. A criminal defense lawyer with a good reputation among other lawyers tends to get better outcomes for their clients. A defense lawyer immersed in the legal community in the area knows which prosecutors tend to reduce charges and negotiate plea agreements and each judge’s position on accepting pleas.
In addition to the reputational benefits, a well-connected criminal defense lawyer will have a good understanding of procedural and local court rules. An astute lawyer can use their knowledge of the particularities of the local court system to create a winning strategy for their clients.
State bar associations are another way for attorneys to grow their professional network. Memberships in various state bar associations are usually voluntary. Many attorneys choose to participate in bar association mixers and other programs.
Criminal defense attorneys can meet other practitioners to sharpen their skills, learn more about the law, and develop relationships that ultimately benefit their clients. It is okay to ask the criminal defense lawyer you meet with whether they are a member of their state’s bar association.
Do your research before hiring a criminal defense attorney. Nowadays, it is easier than ever to find out about a professional’s quality of work. Look up the attorney online. You can read reviews from previous clients and gauge whether they were satisfied with the attorney’s representation. Online research is also a good way to learn more about the attorney’s success rate.
Online reviews should always be taken with a grain of salt, however. It is reasonable for even a great criminal defense lawyer to have a few negative reviews online. If you have personal acquaintances that the attorney has represented, you might rely on their opinion of the lawyer’s representation.
During the initial consultation, you should explicitly ask the criminal defense lawyer how much they charge for their services. The price that the attorney charges does not necessarily indicate the quality of the attorney’s work. The fees the attorney charges to represent you should be a factor – but not necessarily the deciding factor – when choosing a criminal defense lawyer to represent you.
During your initial consultation, you should ask the attorney about the fee structures they typically use. Examples of fee structures that the attorney might agree to accept are a retainer agreement plus an hourly rate or a flat fee.
Also, be sure to speak to the attorney about potential litigation fees.
Examples of litigation fees include:
- Investigation fees
- Court fees
- Documentation fees
- Discovery fees
- Postage costs
- Expert witnesses
The attorney you choose should be accessible to you. It may be a bad idea to hire an attorney who works in a city different from where you live because your travel costs to meet with them for in-person meetings can add up quickly. Similarly, if your attorney works in a county different from the county bringing charges against you, you can find yourself paying for the attorney’s travel expenses.
The best criminal defense lawyer you can hire to represent you will have a reputation for being a fighter. Good attorneys fight hard for their clients from the moment their representation begins. A criminal defense lawyer is a good choice if they advocate well and temper their passion for benefiting their client. You need to trust that your attorney has your best interests in mind at every stage of the case. An attorney who knows how to connect with the prosecutor or jury to persuade them to be in favor of your case is a good attorney to have to work for you.
Comfort with the Lawyer and Their Team
It is important to hire an attorney you are comfortable with because you will spend a lot of time with them and their team. The initial consultation is the best time to determine if you, the attorney, and their team, are a good fit.
Criminal cases are challenging, and the person charged with the crime may need to divulge sensitive information to their attorney to get the best representation possible. Because of that, you may want to consider the attorney’s temperament. You do not want an attorney whose personal bias will affect their ability to represent you effectively. That also applies to the attorney’s team. Ask who on the attorney’s support staff will work on your case with the attorney. The support staff should not have an apparent bias against you or the charges that you face.
Integrity is the hallmark of a fair and just legal system. A good criminal defense lawyer will represent you with integrity. It is vital that your attorney works hard on your behalf and avoids intimidation by prosecutors or by the possibility of a jury trial. Still, your attorney should never let zealous advocacy take priority over being honest with you about your case. Your attorney must be honest with you about the likelihood of success of your case. Not all cases will be successful at trial.
A criminal defense lawyer with integrity will tell you what consequences you face if you choose to go to trial or if you choose to accept a plea bargain and advise you to the best of their ability based on their experience.
Watch out for Gimmicky Advertisements
You probably have seen lawyer advertisements everywhere, including online ads, bus benches, billboards, and commercials on television. It is important to take advertisements with a grain of salt. When an attorney approves an advertisement, they suggest how they represent clients in criminal matters. You do not want an attorney who presents themselves unprofessionally in an advertisement.
Do not fall for an attorney advertisement that guarantees an outcome. Advertisements for any service can make it seem that the advertiser can get results that are too good to be true. Do not just stop at an ad, even if it includes client testimonials. Always do your due diligence before you choose an attorney to represent you.
Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer Directly
You need a criminal defense lawyer’s help if you face criminal charges. Representation from the right criminal defense lawyer can save you money, time, and stress. Criminal defense lawyers ensure that they protect their client’s rights and future. Contact a criminal defense attorney in your area to schedule an appointment and protect your legal interests.