Hiring a criminal lawyer is one of the most important decisions you can make. If you are in a situation where you need a lawyer familiar with the criminal system, chances are that your life has already been turned upside down – you have already been arrested and charged with a crime. Your job, your relationship, your finances and your very freedom could be at stake. In these circumstances, you want the very best criminal lawyer you can get. Unfortunately, not all of us are in a position to hire the best attorneys to defend us, since they can be extremely expensive. What should you do? The best strategy is to get informed on the costs, restrictions and challenges that are involved in hiring an attorney to defend you. In this article, we will attempt to educate you on these very important issues.
First, let’s discuss costs. While attorneys are not cheap, you should understand that the money spent on them can be a bargain given what is at stake in a criminal proceeding (that is, your freedom and your assets). If you have to use your savings, sell your property or borrow money from relatives to pay for an attorney, it may be well worth it. Only you can make that decision. Many attorneys who handle criminal cases do not want to take the chance that they will not get paid, so they will usually ask for a sum of money “up front” (at the beginning of the case) from you that they will draw against as they do work for you. This up front payment is called a “retainer” and can vary in size depending upon the amount of work that the attorney anticipates doing. For example, in a homicide case, he may ask for a $50,000 retainer; for a simple DUI, it may only be $3,000. Note that these amounts are examples only – the amount of a retainer is entirely up to the attorney you hire.
The attorney may also quote you an hourly rate that he will charge you, which also may vary depending on the complexity of your case and the typical rates for your city and state. If he does not demand a retainer, you will have to pay his bill either at a regular interval (for example, monthly) or upon certain events during your case (such as a bail hearing, preliminary hearing, or before trial).
Another consideration that you should think about when hiring a criminal attorney is the legal restrictions and challenges that control his representation. Attorneys must be licensed by the state where they practice and admitted to the court (state or federal) where your case will be heard. In order to be admitted to the courts, the attorney must agree to follow certain rules of practice. These rules include restrictions on who they can represent and what kinds of fees they can charge. For example, an attorney cannot tell you that he will only charge you a fee if you are acquitted, or ask for a “bonus” if you are found not guilty. This type of contingency fee is illegal. Legal restrictions vary from state to state, so you can check with the local bar association for more details.
There are several questions you should ask when looking for a criminal lawyer:
– How long have you been a criminal defense attorney?
– How much experience do you have handling my type of case?
– How many people have you defended that have been charged with the same crime as the one that I charged with?
– Do you require a retainer? How much?
– What is your hourly rate?
– Have you ever been in trouble with the bar association?
– Do you handle all of your cases personally, or do you have associates that work the cases?
– Do you refer cases to other law firms? How often do you do that?
These questions, as well as others you want to ask, will give you a good idea of the experience and quality of the attorney. Remember, who to hire as an attorney is your choice, so take your time and talk to several different lawyers before you make your decision. It is your life and your future on the line.