I am a lawyer, and in this post I will point out some of the things a good consumer will do to get the most bang for their buck. All lawyers are not created equal. In this post, I will specifically address criminal defense lawyers.
When choosing a lawyer to defend you of a crime, one probably looks to see how successful the attorney has been in court. Many attorneys have a great “record” which they will boast about every chance they get. However, there are no scoreboards in the field of criminal defense. Moreover, what is a “win” in criminal law? Is a not guilty verdict a win? Of course! Is a case where the attorney negotiates 30 days in jail when the charge carried 5 years of incarceration a win? Sure! “Wins” come in all shapes and sizes and attorneys take advantage of this. Pay less attention to the part where the attorney talks record and more about how they address your case. Billy-Jo’s case isn’t important when it is your case that matters to you.
A good consumer knows what to ask. Ask the attorney if they will be the ones coming to court. Some law firms take the approach that “ringer” sales people will speak to the potential client first, and then stick another attorney on the case later as the need arises. This is potentially a very bad thing as it means your case is not a personal investment with a specific attorney. Typically these actions occur at larger legal factories rather than small law firms.
Ask the attorney if they are more interested in fighting for you or if they are just looking to wheel and deal with the prosecutor on your court day. Depending on what your case is and the outcome you would like, this answer can be very important. I believe that if a client wants their best day in court, I must be prepared to take the case to trial and be confident I can win the case. Even if a negotiated settlement occurs on the day of court, I am ready to fight for my client. Some attorneys take the easy way out and address the client’s individual facts mere hours before the court date. An attorney who does not take the time necessary to put together a comprehensive file and prepare for trial isn’t an attorney I would hire.
Good consumers are not afraid to let their attorney know when they are upset with something. I tell all my clients, “I work for you.” While that does not mean that the client is meeting with me to be entertained, I make it clear that I will do what my client wants after I explain how certain decisions affect the client’s case. Clients can “fire” their attorney. This is a little secret that many attorneys would not like clients to know. If you are unsatisfied with your attorney’s work, get rid of them. However, BEWARE – If you get rid of your attorney the week before trial, you are unlikely to get an attorney quickly enough to represent you adequately. Doing your research on the front end is key so that you will not find yourself in such a pickle.
Sleep on it. After talking with an attorney, go home and take the evening. Attorneys often want the potential client to sign a contract right away. I want clients to sign up with me; sure! However, I want that client to be comfortable and happy in my representation of them. If you wouldn’t buy a car without going home to talk it over, why would you spend similar money on an attorney without talking and thinking it through?
There are many other tips and tricks to hiring an attorney, but with the above information, you can be a better consumer.