Top 10 Questions to Ask When Hiring a Criminal Defense Attorney

You have been charged with a crime.  It is probably one of the most stressful times you have ever had in your life.  You may have just spent a miserable night or two in jail and are completely exhausted.  However, now you have a very important decision to make.  Who should I hire as my criminal defense attorney?  In this blog we will list 10 questions you should ask when talking to a potential attorney to handle your criminal case.

  1. Is criminal defense your primary area of practice?  In hiring a criminal defense attorney you want someone who primarily practices in criminal defense.  Like most areas of law, criminal defense changes both in the statutes and by the case law that interprets criminal cases.  Additionally, effectively handling a criminal case as a defense attorney is an art form.  When you ask this question you want to find an attorney who at least a majority of their practice is handling criminal defense cases.
  2. How long have you been a lawyer? Like most things, experience matters.  The seriousness of your case may also be a factor in this part of the equation, but no matter the level of offense, you want an attorney that has been doing criminal defense for a decent amount of time and has learned the ropes of how to navigate a criminal case successfully.
  3. How many criminal trials have you done? For sure, the vast majority of criminal cases get settled via a plea agreement.  However, many of them do end up going to trial.  If your case ends up being one of the cases that goes to trial you want to know you have someone that knows what they are doing in the courtroom.  Handling a criminal defense case and trying a criminal defense case are two different skill sets.  You want to make sure that you have an attorney that is capable to do both.  If you are facing a very serious criminal charge you should ask how many of those types of cases have they handled and how many of them have they tried.
  4. What is my best defense strategy? In your meeting with the potential criminal defense attorney talk to the about your allegations and see what possible recommendations they have for creating a strategy for your defense.  Regardless of the facts of any particular case an attorney needs to be creative enough to help you defend your case.
  5. What experience do you have with the county where my case is? The importance of this question will vary depending on the county.  Sometimes having an attorney that is well connected in the community can be a real plus.  Other times, especially in smaller counties where everyone know everyone, it can be an advantage to have an attorney who is from the “outside”.  Either way, talk to your potential attorney about the county where your case is and see what they know about it and how their experience there might be helpful.
  6. What is your style/approach in negotiating with prosecutors? There isn’t any right or wrong answer to this question.  Some defense attorneys take a very aggressive approach toward prosecutors, while other attorneys maintain a friendly relationship.  Either one of these styles may be a good fit and may work to get the best possible outcome, but you should discuss this with them to see which best meets your expectations.
  7. What is your approach towards discovery? How an attorney answers this question will give you a lot of insight into how they approach handling your case in general.  Are they going to conduct depositions, are there third party requests that they will make to dig up evidence, is there a situation where they may want to hire a private investigator to help with the case?  These are all important strategy questions that will help you evaluate if you think the attorney will be the right one for you.
  8. How will you communicate with me and keep me informed with my case? The number one complaint about attorneys is a failure to effectively communicate with their clients.  There is nothing worse than being charged with a criminal offense and then not being able to get hold of your attorney to find out what is going on in your case.  You should ask will they take your phone calls and return them in a timely manner, how will they share discovery with you, how will important dates be shared with you, and when will we meet to discuss the case.
  9. How much are the attorney fees? This is an obvious one.  The majority of criminal defense attorneys charge a flat fee for their services.  Many times this flat fee includes getting the best possible resolution on the case and then an additional fee is due for the cost of doing a trial if that is what is decided to be the best option.  A smaller amount of attorneys handle criminal cases on an hourly basis and charge a fee for the actual time they spend on the case.  The advantage of the flat fee is it is predictable and a fixed amount.  The advantage of the hourly fee is that it may require less money up front.
  10. How much help in terms of staff do you have? This is an important consideration.  A firm that has a robust staff working on your case may be able to give more time and attention to details in working through the case.  Ask the attorney if they have a paralegal that assists them, do they have associate attorneys that will work with them on the case, and do you have law clerks that will help with the research in your case.

In conclusion, this blog takes a look at a variety of important questions to discuss with your possible criminal defense attorney.  In addition to these questions, be sure to list any others you want to ask and take into account your general comfort level you have with the attorney when you meet with them.  As always the attorneys at Banks & Brower standby ready to assist you 24/7.  Whatever the Hour There’s Banks & Brower!