If you have been charged with a crime, you will need a criminal defense lawyer to represent you. If you are unemployed, you could qualify for the services of a public defender if you are charged with a felony. In some jurisdictions, you may not be able to have an attorney appointed if your offense is only a misdemeanor, though the court or an agency may be able to find one at a reduced cost.
For everyone else, you will have to find and pay for an attorney on your own. Finding a criminal lawyer is not particularly difficult since they advertise their services online, in the print yellow pages, and on radio and television. But how do you know if a particular attorney is right for you and where do you start?
Type of Offense
Most attorneys specialize in some area of the law, but many criminal lawyers just practice criminal law and represent clients for nearly any offense. Many are very competent lawyers, but you may want to concentrate your search to an attorney who focuses on your particular offense.
If your alleged offense is a white collar crime, meaning one that involves financial wrongdoings such as insider trading, embezzlement, tax fraud, or securities violations, there are law firms that only handle these types of crimes. For obvious reasons, they are expensive since their clients are often wealthy and a conviction can result in years in prison, substantial fines, and loss of their livelihood. These firms do have teams of financial experts like CPAs, tax experts, and others who can wade through reams of document and ferret out loopholes in the prosecution’s case.
For less esoteric crimes, there are attorneys who only represent DUI clients. These attorneys are equally adept in their field and can represent you in your license suspension hearing and criminal case. They can also find holes in any case and if a DUI expert can keep your license from suspension, you will have saved thousands of dollars in increased insurance premiums as well as the hassle of finding alternative transportation.
If your offense is white collar, your own attorney or the firm’s counsel can refer you to a prominent white collar defense firm. It is easy to find a DUI-oriented firm online or in the yellow pages as well. Referrals from friends or family are helpful, but only if these people have actually been represented by the particular criminal lawyer.
You can also ask your county bar association for a list of attorneys who defend people with your particular crime.
Some defendants want the best criminal defense attorneys and will instinctively call the offices of someone like Johnnie Cochran, now deceased, or Michael Jackson’s lawyer. For a hefty price, these attorneys might agree to represent you, but these lawyers are not necessarily the best, although they are the best known.
You can find a top notch criminal defense lawyer by going to your local law library and finding a criminal defense manual intended for practitioners and look for the author. These attorneys are generally highly regarded, are not publicity seekers, and know their craft as well as any other attorney. They may also be more receptive to your case and your interests and may not charge as high a retainer fee.
If they do not live in your area, they may have a satellite office in your town or nearest city, or have an affiliation with another highly regarded criminal defense lawyer or firm to whom they will gladly refer you.
Another overlooked resource for a local or nationally known criminal lawyer are professional associations. Each state has its own criminal defense lawyers association and there is the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers as well. You can contact these organizations and receive profiles from various attorneys in your area, or nationally, and compare their credentials and successes.
The American Bar Association can also refer you to a nationally known attorney if that is whom you are seeking. In the end, local criminal attorneys can be just as effective as the best known lawyers, but it is who has the best reputation among his or her peers who may be the best lawyer for you.