What Qualities Should I Look For In A Criminal Defense Attorney?
First, you want a criminal defense attorney who practices only criminal defense. If you see an attorney who says that he practices criminal defense and family law and business law and personal injury law, that means that the attorney is so desperate for work he’s taking whatever comes in the door. That’s not something that you want. It also means that he’s probably not experienced enough in any of those areas to make it his exclusive practice. But even assuming that, somehow, you’ve found a lawyer who is simultaneously competent in family law, personal injury law, business law, and criminal law (about as likely as finding a doctor who delivers babies and does open heart surgery on the side), you don’t want a person who is going to neglect your criminal case because they might be working on a car accident case that has the potential to earn them a lot more money than you could pay for your criminal case. You want somebody who does nothing but criminal defense, and that’s what I do.
Second, you want somebody who has experience handling criminal cases. If they’re a former prosecutor, that’s ideal. Why? Because prosecutors get more experience in the same amount of time than defense attorneys do. In my years with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, I handled thousands of criminal cases and hundreds at any given time. Those caseloads weren’t reasonable, but they were a reality of life as a prosecutor. After you’ve seen that many cases, you quickly get a sense of what cases are good and which aren’t and what the value of a particular case is worth. And when you talk to dozens of defense attorneys every day, you learn which arguments are persuasive and which aren’t.
No competent criminal defense attorney would ever handle that many cases in the same period of time. A person who has only been a criminal defense attorney simply cannot have the same amount of experience evaluating cases as a former prosecutor.
Third, you want a criminal defense attorney who has handled cases in the county that you are charged in. You want someone who has appeared in front of the local judges and dealt with the local prosecutors and built up trust with them. That attorney will have a much easier time than one the prosecutor or judge has never seen before.
Fourth, you want somebody who has experience handling your type of criminal charge. This is because it will be second nature for them to know how to handle your case, and they are not going to have to ask for advice or learn how to defend your type of case for the very first time.
Fifth, beware of any criminal defense attorney that quotes you a price that sounds too good to be true. I assure you that it is. Expect to pay thousands of dollars for a competent misdemeanor defense, more for a felony defense.
I have heard horror stories of lawyers that charge clients per court appearance. Insane amounts like $100 or $300 per court appearance. That’s a tremendous red flag. You don’t want a lawyer who is charging you just for showing up to court because that creates an incentive for them not to do any work on your case and drag it out as long as possible so they can maximize the amount that they can charge you. And if a defense attorney is charging you an absurdly low fee, say $500 total for a misdemeanor assault case, or $1,000 total for a third-degree felony case, the only way that attorney is going to make a living on such low fees is through incredibly high volume. At those prices, you may be one of over a hundred clients that defense attorney has.
There is no way that a lawyer who has a high volume of cases can work on each case individually with the attention that it deserves. You may be getting a “good” price, but you are not going to be getting very good representation.
In contrast, I have a hard cap on the number of cases that I take. Once I hit that cap, I don’t take any more cases. That’s what the public defender’s office does, because they couldn’t provide effective representation if they did, and that’s what I do. It does mean that I charge more than some lawyers out there but, as the saying goes, “you get what you pay for.”
Sixth, make sure that the lawyer you hire is actually going to be the one handling your case. Some people find out that they don’t actually get the defense attorney who appears on the website but instead they get some associate that that attorney’s firm. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you want to make sure that, if you’re paying for a particular defense attorney to handle your case, you actually get that defense attorney to work on your case.
I don’t have any associates, so when you hire me, I’m the one who works on your case.
Finally, you want a defense attorney that you feel comfortable with and is willing to listen to you. If you think that the lawyer you’re looking to hire is rude or condescending, just don’t hire him. If the lawyer you’ve already hired can’t seem to find time to talk to you except during your court appearances, fire him. At the bare minimum, you want a lawyer listens to you and cares about you and your case.
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