A good lawyer should respect you for asking these questions. This is your life, and you have the right to know that the attorney you are about to hire has got what it takes to protect you. When you are facing a legal issue, no matter how large or small, your lawyer should be able to clearly explain to you what is happening, your defenses, and your options for settlement or trial. Hiring the first criminal defense attorney you encounter will have consequences, whether good or bad. But before you sign on the dotted line, consider asking the attorney these questions.
How experienced are you in handling DUI and criminal cases?
Lack of experience should not necessarily be enough to disqualify an attorney. After all, attorneys have to start somewhere. Generally, however, it is better to look for an attorney who has handled cases similar to yours, and this is especially true the more serious your charges are. Our law firm has multiple attorneys and paralegals that have had years of experience working many different types of cases. But, again, anyone can get "experience." What you need to consider is whether the attorney you are interviewing has the talent needed to successfully negotiate with the police, the prosecutor, or, if necessary, can deliver your defense with confidence at a trial by a jury of your peers.
Are you willing to take my case to trial?
There is “book smart” and then there is “practical experience.” An attorney may have experience with criminal law, but lack the expertise to put it into practice in an actual trial. This can be a major negotiation point between your attorney and the prosecutor. If the prosecutor knows up front that your attorney is willing, if not eager, to take your case to trial he may be more willing to work with you (and your attorney) for a favorable outcome. Having some hands-on experience can make a difference.
How much of your legal career is dedicated to criminal defense matters?
This goes hand-in-hand with experience. Someone who has merely studied criminal law, as opposed to someone who has dealt with it on a day to day basis, is going to approach a case very differently than someone who makes it part of their life. It is about more than knowing the law, it is also being able to attack the case in an efficient and effective manner.
Have you ever handled a criminal defense case such as mine?
Every attorney will learn something new at one point or another, but it is generally better if your case is not being used as someone’s classroom. Each type of criminal charge carries certain nuances, elements, and possible defenses. When selecting your attorney, you want someone who has “been there – done that” with cases such as yours.
Will you be handling my case, or will my case be handed off to a junior member of the firm?
Law firms can be busy. There are some things that junior associates, clerks, or paralegals may handle. Some firms are prone to bait and switch, luring in clients with promises of a well-known or experienced attorney handling their case, and then farming it out to an associate. You should insist that you have the attorney you choose beside you in court, who knows the details of your case, and who has been well informed from the beginning.
What type, and how much, communication should I expect as my case progresses?
Communication is key. There is an unfortunate trend among many professionals do not keep in contact with a client or to only update them infrequently, regardless of what news has come to pass in their case. With today’s technology, this is unacceptable. An ethical attorney will provide prompt updates when something happens, rather than leave you hanging for weeks or months.
How much will this cost me in the end?
This is the question on most peoples’ minds and there is no simple “one size fits all” answer. Every case is different, and each will have its own unique circumstances. As a general rule felony cases will have a higher fee than misdemeanors. There is a saying that says "you get what you pay for," and this is most certainly true for attorneys as well. There may be other factors to consider if a certain attorney is offering services for a reduced rate, but you should balance the fees charged with the attorney’s experience and what they bring to the table. While an inexpensive attorney is generally a red flag it is important to ensure that your attorney will accommodate you if you are low on funds. While criminal defense attorneys may not take cases on a contingency basis, they will usually work with you to reach an agreement that is favorable to you both regarding payment terms.
So, I'm ready to hire Hepworth & Associates, what is my next step?
Ok, now it's time to meet with us. We offer meetings in person, over the phone, or by video chat. Our attorneys can advise you of your rights and the cost of our services. During our initial meeting, we will discuss your case in detail under the attorney-client privilege. This privilege is one of the most beautiful rights you possess as an American. It's your right to tell your attorney exactly what happened without the worry that anyone, especially the police, will find out what was said. Once our attorney has enough information about what he or she needs to do to get you through your case, you will be quoted a retainer fee. The attorney will then advise that your fee will need to be paid hourly, flat fee, or in some cases (not criminal defense) contingency fee. After that, you'll sign our retainer fee agreement and the attorney will begin representation.