Springtime brings those new flowers and an increased number of calls last week inquiring about whether the caller should hire a lawyer or use the public defender. Now I have to admit that I often ask myself what extra benefit the "private" lawyer brings to a particular case. I was a public defender when I started this some twenty-eight years ago, so I know the real value and commitment many PDs bring into the courtroom. Some great lawyers have spent their careers representing folks who could not afford another lawyer. But if you decide to hire your own lawyer – choose wisely. Pick a lawyer you can trust, who will fight for you and give you the best chance at winning.
So as you think about who you will hire to keep you free – let me give you FIVE QUICK QUESTIONS TO ASK EVERY LAWYER YOU THINK YOU MAY HIRE:
FIRST – how many years have you been in practice. New lawyers know almost nothing about practicing law (sorry, but its true). If it was your MOM who was charged with a crime, would you want an inexperienced lawyer who just passed the bar to handle the case? No way! There is no substitute for experience.
SECOND – how many criminal trials have you done and with what results? Your case may not go to trial, but ask this question. Has the lawyer WON a criminal trial this year? Ever? And by WON, I mean heard those two magic words: "NOT GUILTY!" If the lawyer has not won a case this year – ask for an explanation. And ask the lawyer if HE OR SHE was the responsible or lead lawyer on the case. Some lawyers have never been the lead counsel in a case and WON it on their own, they have only done so with someone else at the helm. You only want the lawyer who has actually stood up and argued the case as THE lawyer, not the second. If the lawyer you are talking to has never personally had an acquittal as the lead lawyer – MOVE ALONG TO THE NEXT LAWYER.
THIRD – who in your office will actually handle my case? Your freedom is too valuable to trust your case to some rookie associate who has not been there before. Can that young associate help and make your case more likely to be a winner? ABSOLUTELY! Young lawyers have brains and recent case information that will help to build a winning strategy, but that young, inexperienced lawyer needs time in court to become a winner. So if the lawyer you are hiring is not going to be personally responsible – MOVE ALONG!
FOURTH – how will you keep me informed about my case? You are buying advice and you are paying for someone to keep you informed about how the case is going and where it is going, so how will you get information? I have seen lawyers who were "not in" more than they were, at least when it came to talking to them. Get a lawyer who is going to take your calls and be around to talk when you need to talk. In our office we use Basecamp to keep our clients up to date – actually building a private website for the client where his or her case documents and calendar are always available. Just how will that lawyer get information to you?
FIFTH – how much will this really cost? Let me be honest here, a simple DUI case might cost you $1000 or $10,000 depending on how the case is handled. Will you be charged a "flat fee" covering all the work or will you pay by the hour? There are options that you should decide. Deciding how the case will be handled will also help you decide how much it will cost. Having money to defend a criminal case is like that "Rainy Day" fund the State has been building up, "just in case." If you have been charged with a crime, follow this one rule above all others: HIRE THE BEST LAWYER YOU CAN AFFORD. Period. Your life and liberty depend on that decision.
Hope this helps – now get out there and find someone who can fight for you. Every criminal case is a war, every motion a battle. So grab a warrior – your freedom may very well depend on it!