How to Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney
Years ago there was a famous financial planning commercial that showed an average-looking guy in pajamas placing a butter knife next to his chest at the breakfast table while on the phone with someone explaining how to make the incision. For a few brief seconds, the screen splits to reveal that the person on the other end of the phone call was a surgeon. At this point, our dumbfounded man at the breakfast table bluntly exclaims, “Shouldn’t you be doing this?” And in doing so, he made the obvious point: We rely on professionals to handle vital matters. In that case, surgery to those who are properly trained to do it. The same is true for when your freedom is at stake. If your life or the freedom of a loved one is in danger, you need a criminal defense attorney.
Surprisingly, there are some people who, when faced with the threat of rotting in the bowels of jail, will choose to handle the matter themselves or seek the help of a friend who has a friend who practices some form of lawyer but knows to the prosecutor. Meanwhile, others rightly believe they need professional help, but they search as if they were looking for a deal on paper towels at Walmart. This is also the wrong approach. When it comes to choosing your surgeon, the man who packs your parachute or the person who protects your freedom, don’t “haggle.” Trust me; you will pay in the end. It is much better to pay a little more money up front than to pay with your life in the end. At the end of the day, it’s just money, and if you’re free and working, you can easily earn the money you spent defending yourself, but if you go to jail, the few pennies you make a day won’t amount to much even after you turn out. a long jail sentence.
I realize that most law abiding citizens do not have a successful “speed dial” criminal defense attorney. Lawyers are not created alike. We come in all shapes and sizes. But there is a common misconception that graduating from law school and passing the bar exam infuses you with some kind of insider knowledge that makes you capable of handling any legal matter. This is simply not so. Think about it, if your head hurts and you have persistent nosebleeds, would you call your dentist? Chiropodist? Probably not. Instead, you would probably call an internal medicine doctor or neurosurgeon because those doctors are trained for that specific problem. The same should be said of your attorney.
I am a criminal defense attorney. As a New Orleans prosecutor, I prosecuted over a hundred cases ranging from drug possession to murder. Now, as a defense attorney, I am proud to handle some of the most famous and complex state and federal prosecutions in our area. I do not write wills. Don’t call me about a pending bankruptcy. I have no idea how to handle those cases and I won’t do either of you any favors by using your case to learn.
Surprisingly, some attorneys are so desperate for business that they practice every type of law imaginable. Be wary of any attorney who claims to handle “no-fault divorces,” “slip and falls,” and “death penalty cases.” I have spent many hours, even years, perfecting my craft. The person who defends your life should too. Remember the old adage “the master of all trades and the master of none”? You owe it to yourself to hire a professional dedicated to your area of law that you need. I think the attorneys who apparently take all cases do so because they need the money to pay the electricity bill. You will do yourself a great favor by staying away from these people.
One thing to keep in mind is that attorneys are salespeople. So, just like your used car lot tour, you need to keep your guard up and not fall for BS’s misleading slogans and sales pitches. I suggest that you separate the real trial attorneys from the suitors and ask the following questions:
1. Do you handle cases before juries and, if so, how many have you brought to trial? Real trial attorneys handle cases. Bogus trial attorneys claim they try cases.
2. What experience do you have with these types of cases? Remember, not all attorneys are the same. Do you really want your homicide case handled by someone who specializes in traffic court? I don’t want my freedom to serve as someone else’s “learning curve”!
3. What percentage of your practice is devoted to criminal defense? I would distrust general practitioners. I enjoy criminal defense. I don’t know anything about property disputes, wills, or the nuances of regulatory law. Just as you would not want me to litigate your bond rights case, you would not want the best divorce attorney in town to select the jury for your armed robbery trial. Let’s be honest, one person cannot master multiple unrelated areas of the law. There is some truth to the old saying, “the fool of all trades and the master of none.”
4. What kind of access will you have to lawyers? Some people charge their fee and disappear. Personally, I have no problem providing my cell phone number to a customer. We assign a dedicated paralegal to each file who can answer basic questions about the case if necessary. We provide the client with copies of the pleadings made in the case and promise to review the materials with them; even if they are incarcerated. This raises another point: We routinely visit incarcerated clients and accept their collect phone calls. If your potential attorney is not easily accessible, you may want to reconsider. But, at the very least, you need to know the level of access you will get for your money.
5. Clearly communicate your goals. Expectations are important. If you have a desired outcome in mind, it is imperative that you communicate it to your attorney. Disaster will happen if you want the charges to be dismissed, but the attorney is considering a “quick guilty plea.” Be clear. And wait for the attorney to tell you if your goal is realistic. Please note that some people will say anything to get their money back. If grandiose claims are made, demand that they be put in writing. I promise you will see a quick street vending. Please note: no attorney can guarantee results.
If your potential attorney is involved in any of these activities, leave immediately:
1. The Guarantee: No lawyer can guarantee a result. Countless families have hired our firm after originally hiring an attorney who said, “Pay me x, and Mr. Client will get out of jail.” If it were that simple. When you hear those words, demand that the promise be put in writing along with a full refund clause if the promise cannot be fulfilled.
2. No Receipts or Scope Letters – Beware of any attorney who is unwilling to delineate the precise scope of their representation and the fees involved. If you don’t get a compromise on scope and fees, don’t be surprised when requests for more cash keep coming and feel like the case isn’t progressing as you expected. Also, be very suspicious of any attorney who fails to provide you with a pay stub that accurately reflects the balance owed. Any lawyer who refuses to do so is probably a lawyer pocketing “off the books.” Our firm delivers receipts and reports every penny earned in fees. We do not believe in “high interest loans from the IRS”.
3. Application: It is unethical for a lawyer to directly apply for your business. Advertising is allowed, but is subject to strict regulations and scrutiny. An attorney cannot call you or knock on your door saying ‘I know you were arrested and I can help’. If this happens, close the door or hang up the phone. This conduct will result in the attorney being disqualified. Also, think about it, if an attorney is willing to engage in an unethical practice to get your business, what quality of representation do you think they will receive?
4. Promote Influence: Any lawyer who focuses his practice on criminal law will be familiar with prosecutors and judges. We know them all. There is nothing special about it. Please don’t be fooled by “I know the judge” or “the prosecutor and I are friends.” I don’t know of a judge or prosecutor willing to do something illegal to help your case. Any suggestion to the contrary is a federal crime of bribery and public corruption. At best, meeting the prosecutor and judge will provide basic information on how they handle similar cases and resolve important legal problems. Nothing else. So, don’t be fooled by lawyers who brag about being golf buddies with the judge.
The bottom line is that you owe it to yourself to find the best criminal defense attorney you can afford if you are under investigation. Be wary of people who make “pie in the sky” promises and be sure to communicate your expectations. Most people should be able to find quality representation at an affordable price. Once your list of candidates is narrowed, you should be inclined to choose from those qualified attorneys with whom you are comfortable. After all, you should trust this person and the advice they give you. Your life depends on that.