In these various Attorney Sam’s Takes, we have discussed particular stories in the news as well as the realities of today’s criminal justice system. I have maintained (perhaps ad naseum) that one of the main reasons for this blog is to communicate the realities of the system to you who are not involved in it during your daily life. My hope is that if enough people come to realize the truth…maybe we can make some necessary changes before it is too late.

Speaking of it being “too late”, though, what happens when your world is shattered and it suddenly seems like it is “too late” to prevent either yourself or a loved one from being pulled feet-first into the criminal justice quagmire?

“Well, you have told us that too, Sam. Over and over and over, in fact. We want to get an experienced criminal defense attorney to help us.”

Yes, this is true. However, you are, to put it mildly, scared. Your freedom, future and life are on the line. Yet, somehow, you are supposed to make a decision now both quickly and deliberately. Your mind is whirling around with the bad possibilities that await you.

In this and my next posting, I will suggest some considerations that I hope will be helpful to you when approaching the decision of which attorney to retain.

1. When Should I Hire A Criminal Defense Attorney And Why?

Usually, if the question strikes you…it is time to, at least, consult a defense attorney. Perhaps you have been questioned by law enforcement or a supervisor at work. Perhaps there is a rumor that you are suspected of some kind of wrongdoing. You would be surprised by how little it takes for you to be at the wrong end of the finger of accusation.

Remember that whenever you retain counsel, you are already behind when compared to the other side. They already knows what information they have gathered and what they plan to do with it.

Even if you are a mere suspect, a good defense attorney can start gathering information, advise you and protect you to the extent possible for the upcoming fight. He/she may even be able to prevent the prosecution.

Many defense attorneys offer a free initial consultation. Take them up on that.

2. Why Would You Want This Particular Defense Attorney To Represent You?

Regardless of what defense lawyer you select to represent you, being the accused (whether or not an investigation actually results in a criminal prosecution) is going to be a nightmare. There is no way around that. It does not matter if you are actually guilty or not.

The most you can do is to retain the services of an attorney with whom you feel comfortable and you trust.

Clearly, you cannot trust a lawyer to handle your case unless you feel that he/she is competent. We will discuss that more specifically below. That being said, however, you want to be able to feel as comfortable as possible being open and honest about what may be very sensitive issues. You want to trust the attorney to be straight with you as well.

So, look at how the lawyer responds to your questions. What feelings do you get from the lawyer? Is she evasive? Does he seem to care? Does she seem knowledgeable?

Listen to your gut. Ask yourself if this person is likely to make the upcoming journey as safe and bearable for you as possible.

3. What Can The Lawyer Do For You That You Cannot Do For Yourself?

This is an especially important question. It is important because most people hesitate to retain counsel because they believe they can “handle it”. The fact is that taking that approach is very dangerous for many reasons. In my experience, it usually makes things worse. Remember that anything you say to any investigators can and will be used against you when the time comes.

If the attorney whom you are interviewing does not realize this, then that attorney probably lacks either experience or common sense.

Additionally, if the lawyer cannot articulate how he can best serve you, then he likely either does not know or has a problem with articulating his knowledge.

Neither one of these choices bodes well for your representation.

4. Who exactly will be personally handling my case?

Just because you are meeting with an attorney in whom you have confidence does not mean that this will be the attorney who will actually be handling your case. Perhaps he is the lead criminal defense attorney…and, in this particular firm…that means that he makes the business decisions and initial client contact.

That is not going to do you much good when it comes time for the real work to be done. While meeting with a figurehead might be interesting, this is not the time for legal sight-seeing. You want to meet the attorney who will actually be handling the case and dealing with you, the prosecution and the court on a regular basis.

Remember that, particularly when it comes to criminal law, many decisions are made in court and must be made in the heat of battle. You need the person who is standing on that spot to have the built-in ammunition that only experience and talent can bring.

5. How much of the lawyer’s experience and practice is in the area of Criminal Law?

Most people would laugh at the idea of going to a dentist in order to perform heart surgery. However, usually for the sake of ease or a break in the cost, they will go to Uncle Joe’s long-time Trusts and Estates attorney to get them out of trouble when arrested for a crime.

Bad idea.

There are many areas of the law. These days, things in most of these areas are so rapidly-changing and technical that simply looking up a type of case in a book is hardly enough to prepare someone to stand up against prosecutors who have spent years handling criminal cases.

You would be a fool to hire me to handle your Real Estate matters. I strongly suggest you not turn to a Real Estate attorney to represent you in a criminal matter.

We will continue on this subject tomorrow.

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