How do I evaluate a criminal justice lawyer?

A good lawyer does not like surprises about cases, making it necessary for you to admit all of the details about what you did wrong. The truth comes out eventually, so you may as well confess all of the facts up front. Allowing the opposition to reveal damaging information at trial puts your attorney at a disadvantage, and it is in your best interests to make your confession full and complete. You are entitled to receive the same level of honesty when you ask a criminal defense lawyer tough questions that require straight answers. Approaching with Respect Years of study to earn a law degree entitle an attorney to your respect, and your approach needs to reflect your understanding of common rules of courtesy. However, you are looking for someone who has the ability to affect your destiny for years or even the rest of your life, so you deserve respect as well. Whether you graduated with a GED or a Ph.D., you need to eliminate from consideration any attorney who does not meet your requirements. Measuring Successful Experience Attorneys have areas of specialization and focus where most of their experience lies. The state or federal accusations that you face need to fit squarely within the area that takes up most of an attorney’s time. These questions may help you find out if a criminal justice lawyer has the successful experience that you need. • What percentage of the attorney’s cases defended charges exactly like those facing you? • What is the total number of cases the attorney has handled? • How many judgments favored the accused? • When was the last time the attorney tried a case like yours? • What was the charge against the last person the attorney represented? • What kind of defense was prepared? • Was it successful? • If not, what went wrong? • Did the attorney start a practice immediately or work for other firms first? The age of an attorney does not usually give you a way to evaluate experience, and a degree from a leading law school is not always a plus. Young attorneys may have more interest in aggressively representing you than one who is planning for retirement. However, years of experience in competing against other trial lawyers may have sharpened skills that give you an advantage in court. Evaluating the Strategy After you present the facts in the case as you see them, you need to get an assessment of an attorney’s opinion of your case. Start by getting answers to these questions: • What arguments does the attorney anticipate from the prosecutor? • What are the strongest and weakest points of your defense? • Does the attorney think it is possible to get charges dropped? • Does the attorney recommend pleading guilty? • What is the defense strategy? • Do you agree with it? • Are you convinced that the attorney’s knowledge of the law is sufficient to defend you? While you are not trained in the law, you can make an assessment of an attorney’s training by observing how your questions are answered. Any hesitation or display of uncertainty is a red flag that requires your attention and may eliminate an attorney from consideration. Understanding Legal Fees A forthright discussion of payment for an attorney’s services is essential, even though you may find it embarrassing or awkward. The seriousness of the charges against you affects the fees that you must pay, and a law office in a big city is likely to have higher fees than a small office in a rural location. Defending a drunk driving charge may cost in the range of $500-$2000, but felony charges can increase the fees to amounts upward of $25,000. Attorneys charge for representation in a variety of ways, and these inquiries can get the responses that you need. • Are services provided by the hour or for a flat fee? • What is included? • What is not included? • When is payment due? • How much is the retainer? • Is additional payment required if your case goes to trial? After having an open and frank discussion about fees, you have to decide if you can afford them. Finding a Good Relationship You may not have much time when you need to find legal representation, and it is possible that you like the first attorney that you interview. Keep in mind that attorneys have many clients and may not need another one, while you surely need one that you do not presently have. An attorney who meets your requirements for knowledge and experience, presents a defense that appeals to you and has reasonable fees is a good candidate for selection. The final questions that you need to ask may convince you that you have found the right legal representation. • Do you feel comfortable in discussing personal matters? • Did you understand everything that the attorney said? • Were all of your questions answered? • Can you envision a satisfactory client-attorney relationship that may last through months of preparation and trial? The road ahead for you is likely to have twists, turns and rough spots, and choosing the right attorney can help you through all of them. Relying on the results of your research, you can proceed with confidence in a criminal justice lawyer who is dedicated to providing a quality service to you.

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