How To Pick A Good Criminal Defense Attorney
Most people don’t keep the name of a good criminal defense attorney in their contact list (unless they’re personal friends).
That’s because most people don’t have to worry about getting arrested. But in the rare event you, or someone you love, gets arrested and needs to find a good criminal attorney ASAP, here are some tips.
Don’t automatically eschew the public defender. Generally, public defenders are among the best trained and most savvy attorneys you can get. They know the lay of the land, have probably tried more cases than most private attorneys, and generally are driven by mission, not money. That means they care. If you don’t make enough money to hire your own attorney and can get assigned a good public defender, don’t mortgage the house. Better to use your money for bail than to pay for a high-priced attorney who may not do as well as the court-appointed one. If you’re in a state or federal jurisdiction where the judge doesn’t inquire into your finances and pretty much assigns everyone public counsel, consider yourself lucky.
If you choose to hire a private attorney, how do you find a good one? Start with word-of-mouth. Any friends who are lawyers know other lawyers in other fields. They may be able to refer you to someone good, or at least refer you to someone knowledgeable who can then refer you to someone with the skills to do your case. (We’re all on listservs with access to info about good attorneys pretty much anywhere.)
Look on the internet, though this method is scattershot at best. Sometimes the attorneys who pop up first may not be the best. They could merely be the ones who invested the most money in Google ads or search optimization. Yes, this shows they have good business acumen, but not necessarily good trial chops. That said, because we are now in 2019, the best attorneys should have a decent website that includes accomplishments, client reviews, important cases, and easy-access contact information. I’d look for how long this attorney has been practicing criminal law. How many trials have they handled? Did they come from a prosecutor or public defender background? (You make the choice of who would be more suited for your case.) You can always then cross-reference with a general Google search of the person’s name to see if he or she has handled many high-profile cases or has popped up in the news.
The amount of money a person charge doesn’t always correlate with excellence. I call this the “Hampton” syndrome. A cousin of mine who works in the pool business in Southampton tells me if he doesn’t charge exorbitantly for his services, people won’t think he’s good. So, the same job he’d do in Coney Island for 10K, he’d charge 50K for in the Hamptons. When I first opened my own firm after a stint at the public defender’s office, I didn’t know how much to charge clients. A senior lawyer advised, “Find out what the person does for a living, figure out the highest amount he can pay, and that’s what you charge.” I was the same exact lawyer I was when I was a public defender, but it’s funny how much my reputation improved when I started charging money.
Beware of the web so that claim to rate lawyer services like Avv. Their rating model is uneven at best. Some of it makes sense. They ask lawyers to solicit reviews from their clients and claim to have a system that ensures the reviews aren’t fake. However, their 1-to-10-star rating is based, in part, on what the attorney is willing to pay. For example, all lawyers get solicitations from organizations selling accolades like “Best Of” awards. Mail comes in from, let’s say, Lawyers of Distinction. The letter states, “You’ve been chosen to be named among the 100 BEST Lawyers of the Year.” The price was $350. Avvo will award you an extra star if you pay for such an endorsement. My theory is that Avvo gets a kickback from such companies. (I’ve heard similar stories from doctors regarding their “Best Of” lists.)