Samuel Goldberg has been a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney for 20 years. Prior to that, he was a New York state prosecutor. He has published various articles regarding the practice of criminal law and frequently provides legal analysis on radio and television, appearing on outlets such as the Fox News Channel, Court TV, MSNBC and The BBC Network. To speak to Sam about a criminal matter call (617) 492 3000.

“I unhappy With My Boston Criminal Lawyer. Can I Change Attorneys?”

Today is Labor Day. I am a Boston Criminal Lawyer. It is what I do in my days of labor. And so it seems appropriate to post this blog today, rather than this past Friday. Call it rationalization if you wish, but today we tackle the question to which I referred on Thursday. What if you are dissatisfied with your criminal defense attorney? Are you stuck?

Unlike most of the questions we pose in this daily blog, there is a simple one-word answer to this question. The answer is “no“.

There are, however, some things you should keep in mind.

Attorney Sam’s Take On What You Want In An Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney

There are a number if things to keep in mind if you are looking to switch counsel in an ongoing criminal case. One is the timing of the switch.

“I know… because if you change too deeply in, you will anger the prosecutor or the judge, right?”


Actually…no. True, if the switch creates a big delay in the case, or if it is the day before the trial is scheduled, you could run that risk. However, if you are going to trial, then you have not been able to reach a plea bargain. So, unless it is because your lawyer was so inept that the prosecutor was actually hoping you would switch, the time to rely on the Commonwealth’s good graces is over. The prosecutor is not likely to be angry anyway, but even if he or she were, who cares?

Again, you want to keep on in the good graces of the judge, but judge’s are used to client’s changing counsel…again, so long as it does not unduly delay the case from going forward. However, again, remember that nobody in that courtroom, other than your lawyer hopefully, is really counting on you not being guilty. Therefore, even if you are worried it will upset the judge, you do not want to go to trial with the wrong lawyer just to please the court. Besides, judges move around a lot, so your trial judge will probably be different anyway.

However, timing does matter in terms of switching. It makes what I always recommend even more critical. They are two considerations which should be paramount in your mind.

The first of these is experience.

You want a lawyer who is experienced in the area of law with which you have been charged.

“Well, of course, I would choose a criminal attorney to handle a criminal case.”

First of all, that is a good start. Many do not realize that hiring Uncle Sal’s Estate lawyer who will do the case as a favor is like retaining Uncle Dennis’ dentist to perform your brain surgery. They may both involve the head…but that is about all they have in common.

Second, I am suggesting experience even more specific than merely criminal. You are best served by a lawyer who has experience in your kind of case. This is because the ever-changing laws and procedures are different with various of the areas of criminal law. For example, the things to know for a New Bedford murder case differ from a Cape Cod domestic violence matter.

Well, unless somebody dies in the domestic violence matter, of course.

“Should I get a lawyer who is known in the particular court I am in?”

Frankly, not in my experience. While there are certain courts in which I appear, for example, more often than others, how well I am known does not seem to be a factor. If I had a bad reputation, I suppose that would be different.

You do not want a criminal defense attorney with a bad reputation. That will not help you at all in any court in which he is known.

The second consideration on your lawyer should be how comfortable you are with him. I suppose you are likely to feel more comfortable with an experienced attorney, but I think it is a separate consideration.

Facing criminal charges of any kind is hell. It will continue to be hell until, at least, the case ends. An attorney in whom you have confidence and an amount of comfort in can help get you through it. The lawyer should be accessible to you so that he or she can “talk you down” if necessary.

Now, in the beginning, I said that timing is something that makes these two considerations even more critical.

This is because the lawyer’s experience level will be even more critical since he or she will have to get “up to speed” as fast as possible. Rescheduling other matters may also be involved.

Changing lawyers, even in the best of situations is going to bring one more little decision from hell in your criminal case. You will be worried if it was a mistake to switch. You will be worried if the new attorney will be ready for trial on time. Finally, you will worry that the new counsel is not able to make the transition smooth, causing as little upset to the case and its participants as possible.

In other words, if you are going survive the change without heart failure, you had better be confident and comfortable with your new lawyer.

I have had many clients switch to me from their other lawyer, whether that lawyer be court appointed or profit. They worry that their old lawyer will be insulted. Changing counsel is nothing unusual. Lawyers are used to it. One size does not fit all. However, as a criminal client, your first priority in your defense must be you. Not the lawyer’s feelings, nor anyone else’s. It is your fate that is at risk.

This touches upon the subject money. Experienced criminal counsel can be expensive. However, the decision can effect the rest of your life. It is not a time to be short-sighted.

One last thing. There are unfortunately still lawyers out there who will guarantee a result. This practice is considered unethical. This is because it is either the sign of a liar or a fool.

There is no guarantee how a criminal matter will end up, despite who you hire. All you can do is increase your chances.

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