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Questions to Ask When Interviewing Criminal Defense Lawyers

If youve been charged with a crime, you need the services of a lawyer. To find the right one, consider interviewing a couple of criminal defense lawyers. If you do not know which questions to ask, this article can help.

You need to find a lawyer quickly, as the criminal justice system can move swiftly. Still, you want the best attorney for your case. You especially need someone who is familiar with the kinds of charges you are facing. After getting the one or two names of some criminal defense lawyers, set up appointments to meet them.

Some criminal defense lawyers are so busy, they may not have time to meet you personally. They may have their staff meet with you. You shouldnt eliminate them as possible candidates just because they are unable to meet you personally.

Come to the meeting prepared. Some criminal defense attorneys will ask you to fill out a questionnaire and submit it ahead of the meeting. Also, gather together any documents the lawyer asks to see.

Some documents that will help the criminal law lawyers understand your situation are:

  • Your bail papers
  • Any documents from the court showing your charges and next court appearance date
  • A copy of the police report, if possible
  • Any paperwork you may have received if your property was searched

Bring these with you to your first meeting with a criminal defense lawyer. Also, compile a list of any witnesses, victims, or other defendants connected to your accused crime. The lawyers need to be sure neither they nor anyone else in their offices has ever represented anyone connected to your case. If they have, they may not be able to represent you because of a conflict of interest.

You should also bring with you a list of questions you want to ask and writing material to record the answers. This article suggests a number of questions. Do not feel obligated to use them all. Select the ones you want to ask, adding questions of your own as you see fit. Focus on questions that help you decide whether you want to hire the lawyer.

Background & Experience

When you first meet with a criminal lawyer, its important to learn whether he or she has experience handling cases similar to yours. Consider asking:

  • How long have you been a lawyer?
  • From what law school did you graduate?
  • Do you belong to any bar associations or other professional organizations? If so, which ones?
  • Have you always been a criminal defense lawyer?
  • How familiar are you with the charges Im facing? What percentage of your clients face similar charges?
  • How often do you appear at the courthouse where my case will be heard?
  • How would you describe your relationship with the prosecutors office?
  • How often do you work out plea agreements?
  • How often do you take your cases to trial?

Assessment of Your Case

Whether youve been charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, you want the attorneys you meet with to explore your various options. You dont want any surprises. Ask such questions as:

  • What happens if I plead guilty?
  • Can I agree to plead guilty to a lesser charge?
  • Should I go to trial?
  • Which facts of my predicament work in my favor?
  • Which work against me?
  • What strategy would you propose for handling my case?
  • Can you walk me through the process and tell me what to expect at each step, from arraignment to trial?

Case Management

Lawyers use the term case management to describe how a case is handled behind the scenes. Its important for you to know the logistics, so that there will be no misunderstandings. Some relevant questions to ask include:

  • Do you have time to represent me?
  • Are there other criminal defense attorneys in your office who will work on my case? May I meet them?
  • When I have questions, whom should I call? How do you prefer to be contacted? How quickly should I expect a reply?

Legal Fees

Legal fees can be competitive among attorneys who practice criminal law. Most lawyers charge for their time using one of two billing methods: Either with an hourly fee or a flat fee. It may be worth it to shop around, comparing hourly rates and flat fees.

Some questions to ask about legal fees include:

  • Do you charge a flat rate or an hourly rate?
  • If you charge a flat fee, what is it? What does it include? What is not included? Do I need to pay it all upfront?
  • If you charge an hourly fee, what is it? Will I have to pay a retainer fee? How does that work?
  • Besides paying for your time, what related legal expenses will I have to pay? Can you estimate how high those expenses could go?

Hiring Criminal Defense Lawyers

When you are done interviewing the criminal defense attorneys, it is time to select one to hire. Your decision is easy if one clearly met all your criteria.

But if youre torn between two or more, ask for the contact information for some former clients. Call them and ask about their experiences working with their lawyer. Ask for the pros and cons. Real-world feedback can be invaluable.

If you still are undecided, you need to organize your thoughts. Ask yourself:

  • Which attorney was most experienced with the kind of charges Im facing?
  • Whose strategy appealed the most?
  • In which attorney am I most confident?
  • Whose legal fees seemed fair?

The answers to these questions should point you in the direction of your best bet in a criminal defense attorney.