With so many attorneys advertising their services, how can you choose the right one for your criminal case? A quick Google search returns a seemingly endless list of lawyers, some with a bevy of awards or recognitions, positive reviews, and glistening web pages. The task of then having to hire one of these lawyers to represent you can indeed feel daunting.
This article will suggest a step-by-step approach to help you make an informed decision when hiring a criminal defense attorney—or any other attorney for that matter.
Make a List of Potential Attorneys
The first step is to locate potential attorneys that you could hire, make a list, and then begin to narrow down that list until you eventually meet with two or three attorneys for a consultation.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2018, there are over 9,300 practicing attorneys in the State of Arizona. Obviously, it would be impractical to check on every single practicing attorney in the state. So how can you come up with a list of potential defense attorneys to consider?
Ask for Referrals:
From a Lawyer
If you have ever dealt with an attorney that you know and trust in a matter, you should start by asking your former attorney for recommendations. Even if the attorney you know does not handle criminal cases, he will likely know at least one or two criminal defense attorneys to which he regularly refers matters. He might know these defense attorneys from law school or a professional association and can attest to their legal skills.
From a Former Client
Another good referral source is a friend or family member who may have needed a defense attorney in the past. If you are like most people, you probably have a friend or a relative who has been arrested for DUI at some point in their lives. Arizona has some of the toughest DUI laws in the country, and it is incredibly easy to run afoul of the law if you go out for a night on the town but don’t take an Uber. When I was a prosecutor, I would often ride along with police officers during their evening patrols in Scottsdale and the greater Phoenix area and spotting potential DUI-drivers after 8 pm on a Saturday was a very easy task.
If you know somebody who has been in this situation and is comfortable enough to ask them for a recommendation, they are an excellent resource. Nobody can tell you what it's like to hire a specific attorney better than that attorney’s former clients.
Search Lawyer Directories
Very few attorneys advertise in the yellow pages anymore, but there is now a wealth of online legal directories with lists of attorneys searchable by practice area. Many of these directories also provide a way for former clients to review the attorneys listed on these sites.
These sites include:
Through these sites, you can search for criminal attorneys who are located near you, and you can begin to make a list of potential attorneys to research further.
Keep in mind that attorneys who show up in the first spot in these listings may have paid the site for that privilege as a form of advertisement. There is nothing wrong with that, and in a competitive legal market like Scottsdale attorney advertising is the norm. Just keep in mind when searching these directories that a top spot listing may indicate that an attorney has good business sense, but it does not necessarily reflect superior legal talent.
Check the Attorneys’ Qualifications
Now that you have a list of attorneys you are interested in speaking with, its time to do some further research into their backgrounds. Here’s some information you should know and where you can find it.
Is the Attorney Licensed?
First, make sure the attorney is licensed and in good standing with the Bar. You can check whether an attorney is licensed in Arizona to represent you on the Arizona State Bar website.
Has the Attorney been Disciplined?
Even if an attorney is licensed, he or she may have disciplinary history with the State Bar. Lawyers have ethical rules that the State Bar requires them to follow. Attorneys who run afoul of these rules can face discipline from the Bar. This discipline can range from a reprimand to suspension to disbarment (i.e., losing their license to practice law). In general, you should be cautious when considering any attorney who has serious disciplinary history. An attorney’s disciplinary history can also be located on the Bar’s website under that attorney’s profile.
Does the Attorney Have Criminal Experience?
When hiring the best criminal defense attorney for you, you will want to make sure that he or she has extensive experience with criminal matters. How many criminal matters has the attorney handled? How many times has he or she gone to trial? It might surprise you, but it is actually very rare for a modern attorney to have extensive trial experience. Upwards of 95% of criminal cases resolve with a plea bargain, and even some attorneys that have been licensed for a long time have done relatively few trials. Having an attorney who knows how to take a case to trial and win can give you an advantage in the courtroom. Hopefully, you won’t need to go to trial, but your attorney should be prepared and able to handle a trial if necessary.
Where did the Attorney Attend Law School?
While this should not be the deciding factor, your attorney’s education is a relevant consideration. An attorney who attended a selective law school has already undergone a vetting process by the law school’s admissions committee. The quality of the school’s faculty will also have influenced how the attorney thinks through legal challenges and solves problems for a client.
Does the Attorney have Reviews?
Attorney reviews appear all over the Internet. Google provides one source of reviews; however, there are many other places to locate reviews beyond that. Avvo is another common review site for attorneys. You can also find attorney reviews on Yelp, Facebook, and other legal directories. While reviews can be helpful, you should also take them with a grain of salt because the sites that accept reviews, such as Google, do little in the way of vetting those reviews to make sure they are legitimate. Nearly anybody can post a review online—positive or negative—even if the reviewer was never even a client of the attorney.
Meet with the Attorney
Once you have investigated the various criminal defense attorneys in your area, you are now ready to meet with a few. Many criminal defense attorneys in Arizona offer free consultations for potential clients. Take advantage of this opportunity to meet with two or three different ones and get a feel for their personalities. If you hire an attorney, they will be giving you legal advice at one of the most critical and vulnerable times in your life. You need to make sure that you trust your attorney, and the best way to do that is by meeting in person.
When you meet with your attorney, here are some things you should ask and take into consideration:
Are you Comfortable?
Every attorney has his own personality and litigation style. Make sure that you are comfortable with your attorney on a personal level because you will be telling him very personal information and you want to feel like you can freely express yourself with your attorney.
Does the Attorney Communicate Clearly?
An attorney’s primary job is to communicate. He must communicate with the court, the jury, the prosecutor, the investigator, and the witnesses. If he does not communicate with you clearly and make you feel like you understand the legal process you are facing, that’s a red flag that he might not be a good communicator in general.
Is the Attorney Confident?
A trial lawyer needs to be a performer. Studies have found that people associate a person’s confidence with that person’s competence. A trial attorney needs to exude confidence in the courtroom to make a positive impression on the judge and the jury. I have seen judges’ rule on objections based on which attorney argued the most confidently for his position. It is important that you feel like your attorney is confident during the consultation and comfortable with handling your criminal matter. Of course, a person can have false-confidence, and this where your other research into the attorney’s trial experience and history will come into play to make sure that any confidence is likely to be legitimate and not just a salesman’s pitch.
Do you Trust the Attorney?
This is a gut-check question. At the end of the day, your defense attorney is going to give you advice on a range of issues in your case—whether you should accept a particular plea, whether you should take your case to trial, whether you should testify. You need to trust your attorney so that when he gives you legal advice, you give it due consideration. Also, you will be sharing many private details about your case with your attorney, and you need to feel like you can trust your attorney with this information and to act in your best interest.
Will the Attorney Actually be Handling your Case?
There are several large criminal defense law firms in Arizona. Often the attorney who will advertise and whom you will initially meet during a consultation will be the owner and “rainmaker” of the firm whose primary job is to handle the law firm’s business and bring clients in the door. Usually, he or she will not be the attorney who handles your case. This is not to say that such law firms do not have competent attorneys. But you need to know that your case might be passed off to another attorney than the one you meet with for your consultation. You should ask if this is so and ask to meet with the attorney who will handle your matter.
Ask about Fees
A Scottsdale DUI attorney typically costs anywhere between $4500 to $10,000 for a non-injury, non-property damage DUI. Representation for other types of misdemeanors typically begins at $2500, and representation for felonies begins around the $5000 mark. Costs for all types of criminal cases usually get higher the more serious the matter, and these are just rough estimates. Many factors go into how an attorney sets his fees.
Ask what is included in the fee. Some fee structures include representation short of trial, with an extra fee to go to trial. Because most cases will typically resolve short of trial, this may result in a benefit to you so that you aren’t paying for more legal services than you’ll actually use. But it all depends on the attorney’s overall fee structure.
While discussing fees might seem uncomfortable, it shouldn’t be. Be open and honest with your financial concerns and questions, and expect a good defense attorney to be open and honest with you in return.
You have a lot to consider when deciding what criminal defense attorney to hire. The key to success is to approach the task step-by-step and give yourself a few options. Finding a knowledgeable, experienced defense attorney that you are comfortable with is your first step towards regaining control of your life when you face criminal charges.
Call Salwin Law Group PLLC today at (480) 470-6119 to schedule a consultation.