Today, i met with some potential clients who brought up a good question that i feel many people grapple with when they or a loved one is arrested and facing criminal charges. To many people, this is their first contact with the criminal justice system and the local courts. Unlike Tony Soprano, most people don’t have a criminal defense attorney on retainer “just in case” something comes up. So when they have to find a criminal defense lawyer, they feel totally clueless.
To add to the problem, most people don’t have a lot of time to research and find a criminal defense attorney. Your loved one is arrested and is due in court in 2 days. If its the weekend, the odds of you speaking to an attorney dwindle even more. For these reasons, some poor souls get stuck with their family law attorney or some attorney that did a Will for their uncle representing them in criminal court. (well-meaning attorneys who know nothing about the specialized field of criminal defense).
So what do you do? What do you look for? That’s what the family of my client asked me. They felt comfortable enough with me to tell me that they had met with 2 other attorneys and had phone consultations with 2 more attorneys in a 2 day span. The four attorneys they met ran the spectrum.
They met a criminal attorney downtown who had a beautiful office and had apparently been practicing for many years. The attorney was late to their appointment and spent about 10 minutes with them, most of which he spent talking “at them” not with them. They liked the guy’s experience and he looked successful but didn’t feel any connection with the attorney.
The next criminal attorney was someone they spoke to over the phone. The attorney claimed to be a “senior partner” at a large criminal defense firm. The family said they were impressed with what the man had to say. He spoke smoothly and confidently about being able to help their son. The family told me they were eager to meet with the man and hire him, but that’s when everything fell apart. The defense firm had advertised that they had a local office close by where they can meet clients. When they asked to meet the man at that office, he told them that they don’t really have an office in that city. They then found out that smooth talking attorney was not going to be the one meeting with them or even representing their son in court. They were going to meet an attorney who they had not talked to and who was a young associate at the firm. That was the end of that.
Their third contact with an attorney was someone who had mailed them a flyer to their house. They later found out its called “Jail mail.” The attorney had included a $500 off coupon in their pamphlet. They never got a chance to talk to the “attorney” and spent 15 minutes talking to a paralegal.
The second attorney they met was a local attorney and seemed very nice. Aside from having to reschedule their appointment once because the attorney was running late, the office seemed very professsional. The problem came up when the attorney was unsure if they were there for a child custody case (family law) or a criminal case. The attorney apparently mistook them for some other clients. They felt comfortable with the attorney but they didn’t get the feeling that he knew alot about what was going to happen to their son in criminal court.
Overall, it was fascinating to me what this family had to say about their experience in this stressful period. They shed light on my profession as a criminal defense attorney and how it serves the community. They also gave me a glimpse on how we can improve. Choosing someone to represent a loved one in court is almost as important finding a surgeon. In my discussion with the family, I came to understand 3 major things that guided their choice.
1) Comfort Level with the Attorney. Meeting with the attorney and speaking with him/her is key. Don’t be sucked in by speaking to a “senior partner” or an other attorney that may send a young associate to handle your case. The one on one connection with the person handling the case is key.
2) Exclusively Criminal. You wouldn’t trust your heart surgery to a doctor who spends half his time doing cosmetic surgery and liposuction. Don’t trust your freedom to an attorney who handles family law, immigration, pet law and criminal law. Criminal defense is a highly specialized and ever changing field and no attorney who tries to dabble in everything will do one anything really well.
3)Choose Local. Don’t bring someone from the westside or downtown to Norwalk or Whittier to handle your case. They don’t come here regularly and don’t know the court, the judges and the prosecutors. They will feel like a fish out of water and you are going to be the one that pays the price.
Best of Luck.