The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in 2006 that 102 million criminal cases were filed, reopened and reactivated in state courts.
This was an increase from previous years that often inundated the adjudication process, leading to greater reliance on private legal expertise.
Today, plaintiffs and defendants have access to more lawyers and attorneys than ever before. Market research from IBISWorld estimates that there are currently over 20,000 criminal defense firms nationwide, with more than 61,000 professionals working in the industry. Of course, not all of them are equal.
Whether you’re under investigation or were charged with a crime, it’s vital that you have the right attorney at your side. Here’s what to look for when hiring a criminal defense lawyer.
The primary obstacle for most people in search of an attorney is the perceived cost. It’s normal to fear the possibility of excessive rates, exorbitant retainers, and hidden charges. While these risks certainly exist, they’re the exception rather than the norm. Trustworthy lawyers may assist in reducing your expenses by:
- Providing set prices instead of charging by the hour
- Setting up payment plans
- Waiving any retainer
- Taking the case pro bono
What you end up paying often depends on your case. For example, infractions and misdemeanors are often quoted retainer-free flat fees in the $500 range. On the other hand, felony charges may demand retainers and hourly rates.
According to Ambrosio Rodriguez, a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney, “You shouldn’t be charged for initial consultations and case reviews. Reputable criminal defense lawyers are forthcoming about the details of their consultation process, during which you’ll be informed about their services and fee structure.” They should also review your charges and provide advice when asked. Their response speaks for their expertise.
Professionalism and Communication
The foremost complaint that clients file against lawyers is neglect, specifically with regards to communication.
It’s not surprising given that effective attorney-client communication is crucial during criminal case proceedings. You can reasonably expect timely responses and regular updates from your lawyer. Any attempt to reach out should be returned promptly and professionally. When you visit an attorney, assess the following areas:
- Cleanliness and organization
- Presentable attire and appearance
- Respectful language and demeanor
- Proven track record and work history
You might prefer to search for a criminal defense lawyer online. In that case, make sure to check their reputation. The content, quality, and layout of their website can also serve as an accurate measure of their approach to clients. There should be various contact methods available for you to test their communication skills through.
Experience and Expertise
Finally, remember that many private law firms provide criminal defense services, but not all lawyers specialize in the practice. You want to work with those who do. An attorney that’s dedicated to criminal defense will be far more experienced and knowledgeable in the relevant area of law.
During your consultation, ask the lawyer about their past criminal defense work and familiarity with your type of case. Coupled with the above-mentioned strategies, you should come across an ideal legal partner soon enough.