What to Look for in Hiring a Criminal Defense Attorney
Finding the right attorney can mean the difference between a reduced sentence, dismissal, acquittal, and a conviction. Many criminal defense attorneys offer free consultations to learn more about your case and goals. Not all attorneys are the same, varying greatly in the scope of services they provide. Looking for the right attorney can feel like blindly looking for a needle in a hay stack, especially criminal defense attorneys because people understandably don’t ever think they’ll need one - until they do. Therefore, here are some key points to keep in mind when searching for a criminal defense attorney.
A good attorney will take the time to listen to you and will ask enough questions to obtain a full picture of the case in order to thoroughly evaluate your potential options. Your attorney should listen to your goals and provide recommendations based on those goals, as well as letting you know how realistic each of your options are. With the right attorney, you should leave an initial consultation feeling like your attorney understands your case, is knowledgeable and well-equipped to handle it, and is moving forward with your best interests in mind.
UPFRONT AND HONEST
You want an attorney who is straight with you. That means they don't paint an unrealistically rosy picture about potential outcomes-- they give you both the good and the bad. In discussing your case with a criminal defense attorney, look for someone who gives you all of your options and is realistic about the potential outcomes based on the unique circumstances of your case. Related to the last point, be especially wary of an attorney who guarantees a favorable outcome. No criminal defense attorney can promise any particular resolution at the outset of a criminal proceeding-- a good attorney will aggressively advocate for you, but depending on the facts of a case, he or she cannot force the hand of a judge or jury.
CLEAR FEE AGREEMENT
With the right attorney, a dedicated and rigorous criminal defense is a worthwhile investment in your future. The cost of criminal defense attorneys varies greatly. Before hiring an attorney, you should fully understand the fee agreement. It is common for criminal defense attorneys to charge an upfront flat fee— however, retainer agreements or monthly installments may also be options. Your attorney should be upfront about the scope of services included in the fee agreement, i.e. whether a trial will cost more than if a case settles, or if any associated license suspension issues with the DMV are included.
COMMUNICATIVE AND ACCESSIBLE
You don’t want to be chasing your attorney down to get a simple update. Your attorney should regularly consult with you, and be accessible to you and responsive to your needs. Be sure to ask about an attorney’s availability. A good criminal defense attorney understands that unforeseen circumstances may arise, which requires immediate action. Your attorney should be available 24/7, day or night, weekend or holiday. If they are going to be unavailable for a particular time, this information should be clearly communicated and emergency contacts should be provided.
PRIORITIZES YOUR CASE
It is likely that a criminal case is taking center stage in your and your family’s lives. A good criminal defense attorney will work tirelessly on your behalf— giving your case the attention it deserves and treating it with a sense of urgency. You should feel not only feel like a priority to your attorney, but also that your attorney understands your unique circumstances to best advocate on your behalf.
THE RIGHT FIT
You want an attorney in whom you have confidence. Attorneys vary widely in their styles and personalities. An attorney who’s the right fit for one person may not be the right fit for another. However, you want an attorney who is generally compassionate and helpful. Your attorney should spend time getting to know your situation and treat you with dignity.
Douglas D. Rudolph is a Connecticut criminal defense attorney. Learn more about Doug here.