By Robert R. Gray
Sr. Paralegal and Office Administrator
The Gasper Law Group
Take a look at any phone book ... there are hundreds of attorneys from which to choose! There are also a number of attorney locator sites on the web such as Attorney Find or Attorney Locate. Once you find a list of criminal defense attorneys in your area, the question becomes "How do I choose a quality defense attorney?"
There are several criteria that one might consider and these are in no particular order:
1. Experience - Some of the more obivous questions to ask are; "How long has the attorney been in practice?" "How long has the attorney been in the particular jurisdiction?" "What kinds of cases has the attorney handled?" Questions like these will give you a basic idea about the attorney and about the firm. However, a question that one might not think of asking is "How often is the attorney in court?" If the answer is less than 20 to 30 times a week, this may speak to the attorney's ultimate experience and his or her ability to understand the people and the procedures involved in the system. Frankly, this one question will speak volumes about the attorney's savoy in the courtroom and around the courthouse.
2. Price - This is always one of the defining issues, yet it may be the one thing that is of the least important. What should really be considered is the "cost" and not the "price". The difference is significant insomuch as not having an attorney may "cost" much more than paying the "price" to have quality representation. Additionally, many firms, like ours, offer payment plans that can ease the burden on defendants and their families.
3. Win-Loss Record - "What is the attorney's winning percentage?" In Criminal Defense this question is one that needs more of an answer then just numbers. On all the TV law shows, the defendant is either guilty or innocent ... and by the way, it all happens within an hour after his or her arrest! The real criminal defense system is much more lethargic, could take several months or even years to finish a case and a "win" could very well be "plea to a lessor charge" or "plea to a deferred sentence". So instead of asking the attorney about his "win-loss" record, it might be better to ask if his or her clients are generally happy with the results and if he or she gets lots of referrals!
4. Consult Fees - Some attorneys charge a "consult fee" for you to see them initially. Personally, this seems a little odd. I don't know what I'd do if I went to a car lot and the salesman approached me and said, "see that car with the tarp over it ... if you give me $150.00 I'll remove the tarp and tell you about it" ... well ... I'm afraid I want to "kick the tires" before I buy. If an attorney charges a consult fee, it may be that they are very good and just don't have time to see potential clients that aren't "serious" about hiring them. On the other hand, it may be that they need to pay their office rent!