Hiring an attorney can be a scary process, especially if you’ve never hired an attorney in the past. Even more so, when the attorney you’re looking to hire is for a criminal defense matter. When you are being accused of a crime, whether it’s a small misdemeanor, or a serious and violent felony, not only is your reputation on the line, but your piece of mind has been taken away as you consider what your options are. Most people that call our law firm, worry about having to do jail time or prison time, they worry about their job, their career, a criminal record, or who will support their family if they are incarcerated.
Whether they will be forced to leave, if there immigration consequences, whether it will hurt their divorce or custody proceedings in family court. The concerns are endless. So finding the right attorney to protect you and to look after your best interests should be done with logic and reason, and not with fear and emotion. If you have just been released from being in custody, it is my strong recommendation that you freshen up and get a good night’s sleep before searching for an attorney. Some people prefer to get it done immediately because they just can’t sleep until they know that they’re protected. You know yourself best, but at minimum, here are some pointers to consider when searching for the right criminal defense attorney.
Number one, location. Each courthouse has different rules and procedures that are specific to each judge and department. For example, in San Francisco Court, attorneys meet with the DAs in judges chambers before the judge takes the bench to negotiate cases. Or in Alameda County, in Oakland or Dublin, some judges meet with DAs and defense attorneys virtual, especially during a pandemic. And in Martinez, or other courthouses in Contra Costa, a defendant, like yourself, maybe be ordered to appear on their first court date. Some judges have reputations for ordering defendants to attend self-help classes or domestic violence classes or AA classes, for alcohol related defenses. Hiring an attorney, who has experience in the area where your case is filed, in fundamental. It ensures that your attorney knows who the players in the game are, that they know what the temperament is of the DA or the judge assigned to your case, and ultimately can use that information to get you the best result.
Number two, specialties. It’s best to hire an attorney who has experience in your case. Some people make the mistake of hiring someone based on all the awards hung up on their office walls, or one all the accolades on the attorney’s website, or even because the person just looks established and credible, and maybe went to a top-notched school. While this is telling about a person’s success, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they specialize in the type of case that you have. For example, all DUI attorneys fall into the category of criminal defense attorneys, but not all criminal defense attorneys specialize in DUIs. DUI cases are very scientific and forensic, and it may not be wise to hire an attorney who doesn’t have experience with it, because it could end up costing you more money in the long run, if you end up having a harsher sentence.
If you have being charged with domestic violence, or possession of a firearm, or if you have prior criminal record, you may want to work with somebody who has experience dealing with similar situations. Most people who handle serious and violent offenses, especially if the person that they are representing has many prior convictions involved, know how to calculate the exposure, or in lay terms, the maximum sentence of the crime, and how the local courts, judges and DAs, will approach your case. Even better, is when the attorney your looking to hire, knows from experience, what judges and DAs will be assigned to your case and how these parties, historically, have approached cases like yours in the past.
Number three, reputation. If you spend thousands of dollars hiring an attorney, you want to do your due diligence and research that attorney’s reputation online. If you go onto the State Bar of California website for lawyers, which is www.calbar.ca.gov, you will see that attorney’s profile and how long they’ve been in practice. You can also find out if there have been any complaints against that attorney by prior clients. There’s also peer-reviewed websites like Avvo, customer reviews on Yelp and Google, and even Better Business Bureau to consider the person’s reputation.
Number four, cost. Legal services vary based on experience, the nature of the charges you’re facing, the complexity of the case, where your case was filed, the length of case, whether it’s a case you want to take to trial, which can be a very expensive and lengthy process, whether you’ll have to hire an investigators or expert witnesses. Please don’t make the mistake of hiring an attorney without asking what the total cost will be. While attorneys cannot predict a specific number, most experienced attorneys can give you a range, based on whether or not the case resolves in negotiations and settlements or if the case goes to trial. Ask the attorneys you interview, what the total cost will be for their services, for any court fees, or for any other costs associated with your case. Have them put it in writing and make sure you understand what you’re signing.
Number five, personality and compatibility. Hiring an attorney is like hiring any professional service. You may have a competent professional who can handle your case, but your personalities just don’t click. Which will make the process harder because of compatibility. Maybe you don’t feel heard, maybe you don’t feel communicated with, or maybe your gut just tells you that the person isn’t the best fit. I once hired an accountant who did an okay job but also had the tendency of belittling me. I also remember working with the doctor who a specialist in his field, but was, and he was insensitive and crass. Each person has their own preferences and needs.
Perhaps you want an attorney who over-communicates with you every step of the way. Or maybe your don’t want any communication at all except for when the job gets done. If you gut feeling tells you that the attorney may not be a good fit, you’re probably right. And if your gut tells you that you may have found the right person to hire, assuming time permits, sleep on it. The bottom line is that you want a make a decision in hiring the right attorney based on logic and reason, not fear and emotion, which can easily be done if you’re under the stress of dealing with a criminal case.
Right out a list and ask yourself these five questions. Number one, does the attorney have experience in the court where my case is filed? Number two, do they specialize in the type of case that I am facing? Number three, do they have a good reputation and did I confirm that based on my research? Number four, has this attorney explained the cost and fees associated with my case? And number five, what is my guy instinct about this attorney? If you ask yourself these questions when looking to hire an attorney, you’ve closer to finding the right person to help defend your case. At Lamano Law Office, our goal is to keep you informed. Please contract us if you have any questions and thanks for listening.