How to Choose the Right Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have been arrested or are otherwise facing charges for a crime, it is probably fairly clear to you that you need to seek the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney. What many people don’t consider, however, is how important it is to consult an attorney as soon as they find themselves under investigation or facing any kind of questioning in relation to a crime whether it’s as a suspect, witness, or person of interest. If you are being investigated as a suspect it is especially important to start working with a lawyer to build a strong defense; you can bet that the moment the investigation began, the prosecution started working to build a case against you, and their resources are probably far more extensive than yours.
Why Do I Need a Criminal Lawyer?
A lawyer knows the rules and procedures for arguing the case in court, how to determine the strengths and weaknesses in your defense and build a case accordingly, and what your rights are in each step of the case from the initial filing of charges to the verdict (and sentencing and appeal processes, when applicable). How skillful your lawyer is can make all the difference in whether or not your side of the story is successfully presented to a judge or jury.
In some instances in particular, failing to consult with the right lawyer immediately can make the situation worse. For example, if you are arrested or involved in a serious auto accident that could carry potential criminal charges for the motorists involved, someone should interview the witnesses and gather evidence as soon as possible. A criminal defense attorney will know the proper procedures and regulations to make sure the right evidence is admissible in court.
How Do I Find a Lawyer?
The state of California has more than 160,000 practicing lawyers, which offers you a lot of potential options but can be overwhelming. Here are a few good strategies for narrowing it down and finding a lawyer that’s the right fit for you:
Personal referrals: ask your friends and family members if they have any personal experience with the services of attorneys in your area who they would recommend. Also, if you know any lawyers who can’t represent you in a criminal case because they practice in different branches of the law, ask them for referrals to criminal defense attorneys. All lawyers begin with the same base education before choosing a specialty and working to get education and experience in that field, so the lawyer you know may have a contact from law school or past work who they can recommend as a good attorney for your situation. As a professional courtesy, most attorneys regulary refer clients to each other depending on the branch of the law being dealt with, so if you can find a lawyer you trust, they’re almost certain to have someone in their contacts who can help you.
Professional referrals: bar-certified lawyer referral services exist in every state to refer clients to attorneys who are in good standing with the state bar association and other regulatory groups. For a small fee, the referral service staff will meet with you to review the details of your case and other factors like budget and location, and then match you with a lawyer who is experienced in the appropriate area of the law based on the information you provide.
For an online list of certified lawyer referral services, you can visit the California State Bar Association’s website for these listings at www.calbar.ca.gov/lrs. For a recorded message that can provide you with the phone numbers and other contact information for certified services in your county, call 1-866-44-CA-LAW.
Third-party references: do some research online and make a list of several lawyers in the practice area for which you need representation that have good ratings on sites like Yelp and Angie’s List. Call or meet with each lawyer to discuss your case, your concerns, and ask questions that might help you make your decision.
Advertisements: many attorneys do not advertise and rely on referrals and their reputations for success to bring in clients. An attorney who does advertise online, in print, or on TV/radio is not necessarily a bad or unskilled attorney and may be more affordable than others who do not advertise for clients. Before entering any agreement or paying any money to a lawyer, however, make sure they’re in good standing with the state bar and meeting the requirements to practice in California.
Public defenders and free/low cost legal aid agencies: if you can’t afford a lawyer, you still have the right to be represented in court. The Office of the Public Defender is responsible for these cases. Depending on your income and the nature of your legal problem, you may also be able to get free or sliding scale cost legal help.
What if a Lawyer Solicits My Business?
If a lawyer approaches you to get your business without prior contact with you or a request for contact, proceed with extreme caution. Very few methods of soliciting business are actually in line with the legal professional code of ethics.
Ask about the attorney’s experience and background, including specifics of similar cases handled by their practice. Take detailed notes during the consultation, and come in with a list of questions and concerns prepared beforehand so you can be sure all of them will be addressed even if you get nervous or upset discussing your case.
Part of your lawyer’s job is to make sure that every aspect of your case is clear and understandable to you, because many of the decisions that have to be made during a criminal case are yours alone. These decisions can carry serious and varied consequences, so ask as many questions as you need to until your attorney communicates the situation to you in a way that you can understand. The law is an incredibly complex field the requires its personnel to have extensive training, experience, and knowledge, so don’t feel embarrassed or shy about asking a professional what something means or what to expect.
Karine Basmadjian is a Los Angeles area criminal defense attorney with almost two decades of courtroom experience at the state and federal level. Contact Basmadjian Law Group today to schedule a consultation.