Let’s face it; being charged with a criminal offense can be as serious as being diagnosed with a life altering disease. Both will have an effect on the way you live your life, your ability to earn a living, and even how others view you. So why, then, would choosing the right lawyer be any different than choosing the right doctor? I’m here to tell you that it shouldn’t be.
Whether you’re charged with a serious offense such as murder, rape, sexual assault, DUI, or something less serious like a summary offense or traffic ticket, choosing the best lawyer to fit your needs may be the most important decision you make. Just as there are many “qualified” doctors available, there are also (probably twice as many) “qualified” attorneys. However, as you will soon see, the word “qualified” can be misleading. For lawyers, the act of becoming qualified simply means passing the dreaded Bar Exam. Every state in the United States and most European Countries have a testing requirement for those who wish to practice law. However, it is important to remember that although the Bar exam is a very challenging exam that requires a lot of work to pass, it is designed to measure minimum competency in several areas of legal knowledge. It is, for all intents and purposes, the basic level of knowledge that a person must possess if they want to practice law. Following this logic, an attorney who has done nothing but draft wills for the last 20 years would technically be “qualified” to represent an individual in a murder trial. Sound absurd? Well it’s true. As you can see, “qualified” does not mean “competent”.
So how do you hire a great lawyer that’s right for your case? Well, taking these few simple steps will go a long way to taking the mystery out of the process.
1. Hire a Defense Attorney that focuses their practice in the area you need.
Many criminal defense lawyers, in addition to handling general criminal matters, concentrate in particular areas of criminal defense. For example, some attorneys might focus on Federal crimes, others on military criminal defense and Court Martial. Some attorneys might fine tune this even more focusing their practice on violent crime, rape, drug crimes, or even DUI and traffic violations. Knowing what you need will save you time and money.
2. Do your research.
If you were looking for the best doctor to treat your disease you would try to get as much information as possible before making a decision. Hiring a great lawyer is no different. Take a look at the lawyers background. Find out what professional organizations they belong to. What Bar Associations are they members of? Have they had any professional complaints? Getting as much information as possible will help eliminate poor candidates and improve your selection.
3. Find out about their educational background and experience.
Education and experience can tell you a lot about an attorney’s ability to deal with the particular issues in your case. Where did they go school? Do they have a background that gives them a particular understanding of your situation such as being a former police officer or military JAG lawyer? Has he/she ever taught in a law school or college? Have they ever published any legal articles? The fact that all of these things require commitment and dedication can be a good way to determine your lawyers standing in the legal community.
4. Figure out what qualities are important to you.
One of the most important qualities a litigator can possess is an excellent ability to communicate. Communication is a two-step process that requires both listening and speaking. If the lawyer isn’t willing to listen to what you have to say or can’t explain to you the benefit of hiring him, how will he ever be able to explain to a jury your theory of the case?
5. Meet the lawyer in person.
I cannot overstress this point enough. You need to see the attorney in person to make any realistic assessment of their abilities. Does he inspire confidence in you? Do you feel comfortable talking and working with him. If you feel that something isn’t quite right then don’t hire him. There is nothing wrong with getting a second opinion. Trust your gut and beware, the old axiom applies, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
Bryan E. DePowell, Esquire
Crisp and Associates, LLC
We are a full service criminal and military law firm serving clients both locally and worldwide.