10 Questions to ask your Criminal Defense Lawyer

Having to find and choose the right criminal defense attorney may be a situation you never wish to experience. Nevertheless, the day may come when you, a family member, or a friend may find it necessary. You may find yourself in need of a criminal lawyer not because you intended to break the law but because you made a bad decision or have been falsely accused or your spouse, child, or other relative is in the same position. Whatever the circumstances, your future (or your relative’s) may be heavily impacted by the criminal justice proceedings that follow and you’ll want legal representation that gives you the best chance for a favorable outcome. That’s where your choice of a criminal defense lawyer comes in:hiring the best lawyer you can afford for your kind of case is essential.

Bear in mind that the court will assign an attorney to you if you can’t afford to hire your own. That attorney, usually a public defender, may be young, fresh out of law school, inexperienced in the kind of charges you’re accused of, overworked, or too dispersed by a case load he/she can barely manage. That leaves you with an attorney unable to give your case the attention it deserves. Having an attorney who can put the requisite time and work in at the outset and who has experience defending your charges is imperative if you wish for favorable results.

Knowing what to ask a prospective criminal defense attorney can help you make a better decision when it comes to your final selection. Following are some questions you may want to ask any attorney you’re considering. His or her answers can lead to an informed choice, one that can translate into a better future. When your freedom, heavy financial repercussions, a permanent criminal record, and other criminal court actions are at stake, you deserve the best defense you can find.

1. How long have you been practicing law? Do you focus on criminal defense exclusively?

These basic questions will give you some idea of the experience level of your criminal defense candidate. If your potential lawyer practices more than criminal defense, that may be an indicator that he/she doesn’t have enough concentrated knowledge or a track record sufficient enough to give you the level of expertise you need to defend your particular charges. A good criminal defense lawyer is one who focuses on this field, who has forged personal relationships with local judges and prosecutors as well as law enforcement and who knows the local court systems where your case will be heard.

2. How much experience have you had with my type of criminal charge?

Are you facing DUI charges which are a very complex field of criminal defense? Then you will want an attorney who has taken the time to learn the science behind this field, who has studied field sobriety testing, chemical testing, and the legal factors that affect these types of cases. If you are facing murder charges, you won’t want an attorney who has never handled a case more serious than burglary. If you are facing serious federal criminal charges, you will want a defense attorney who can go toe-to-toe with tough federal prosecutors, who has experience in federal court, and who can handle federal trial procedures.

3. How many jury trials have you conducted?

If your case goes to trial, you will want an attorney who has the courtroom presence and skills to aggressively argue your case before a judge and jury. You will want an attorney who knows how to intensively prepare your case for a trial as well as who knows how to pursue and negotiate plea bargains, should that be a better option.

4. Is the lawyer Certified in criminal law by the state bar or the Supreme Court in your state?

Certification as a criminal trial lawyer means your attorney has reached the top of his/her profession in the state, that he/she is endorsed as a legal specialist or expert in this practice area, and that he/she comes highly recommended as an example of superior competence in the legal arena. Certification is achieved after rigorous training, examination, requisite years of experience, and/or excellent peer reviews from judges and other lawyers.

5. Will this attorney be the one who ultimately handles your case? Or will it be turned over to a case manager, junior lawyer, or other assistant?

You don’t want any surprises. If your case is to be given to someone else, you have a right to know as your agreement concerning fees and other matters are based on what this attorney says.

6. What are the legal fees going to be concerning your case? How will fees be impacted if your case goes to trial?

Find out up front how fees are structured and how they can be paid. Fees may be higher for an experienced defense lawyer with a successful track record or one who is Certified in criminal law but those fees may be well worth it due to the value of the legal representation you will be getting.

7. Is this attorney a member of any professional organizations, such as the National College of DUI Defense, the National Trial Lawyers Association, or others?

These professional ties can indicate a higher level of commitment and ability to a profession or practice area. Is he/she a former state prosecutor which can be very advantageous as he/she has insight into how your prosecutor will operate and build a case against you and most likely will have professional relationships which can be useful resources in your defense.

8. What type of reputation does this attorney have?

Has he/she earned a good or even excellent rating with Avvo or Martindale-Hubbell, both national organizations which rank lawyers and their services? Has he/she earned any other awards, such as being recognized by Super Lawyers, a Top 100 Trial Lawyer, or a Top 40 under 40 Lawyer in criminal defense? These are all indicators of what the legal industry, other clients, and the public think of this attorney’s professional ability.

9. Does he/she treat you with respect and dignity, listen to your needs and objectives, and engage in meaningful communication with you as a human being?

This man or woman will be in charge of your future; you should be able to talk to him or her honestly and receive straightforward answers in return. You should be able to call and get a return answer within a reasonable period of time. You should never be ignored or left to worry and spin over matters that can be explained calmly.

10. Does the attorney inspire confidence?

After you’ve discussed your case and gotten answers to all of the above questions, do you feel confident that this attorney will do his/her best to help you achieve the most positive result? You should not feel like just another case or number. You are entrusting him/her with a legal matter that could profoundly change your life. That is the level of importance you should take in making your final decision about whether your candidate can do the job.

By asking your potential attorney these questions and getting real answers in return, you will have a better understanding of who to place your trust in for the days and weeks ahead.