I heard about a Los Angeles criminal case where an accused person regretfully hired an attorney who charged about 1/3 of what an experienced criminal defense lawyer would normally charge for a similar case. The lawyer didn't typically handle this type of case, or generally practice cases in the assigned courthouse. Things didn't go well, as you might have expected. The "accused" person became a "convicted" person in the case, and was placed in a precarious situation because of a challenging plea arrangement. After realizing the negative consequences, this person then wanted to try to undo the damage caused by the plea. This person is now facing extraordinary challenges in attempting to do so, since judges are reluctant to go back and start the case over. So, this topic is: How to hire a criminal defense lawyer (and how not to).
Because of the narrow scope of this post I will focus on 10 issues I believe to be significant, as well as some helpful insight, about How to hire a criminal defense lawyer. Obviously, there are more considerations to the process (this is not a comprehensive list), and you should be extremely careful and particular in your selection.
1. Hire a criminal defense lawyer to handle your criminal case. Do not hire the attorney who happens to be your uncle's friend simply because it is a referral from a relative. I have found that many people simply assume that a referral from someone they know is their best option, when this isn't necessarily the case. Use the level of care in choosing wisely, that you would choose in selecting a physician.
2. Do not hire a criminal defense lawyer simply because he or she is the least expensive. If your monetary resources are limited, you are probably better off with a court-appointed lawyer, rather than the cheapest lawyer available.
3. Hire the criminal defense lawyer who works and is familiar with the justice system in the jurisdiction where the accusation is based. Don't hire a lawyer 100 miles away to handle a case in a city which he or she is unfamiliar. There is something to be said about a home court advantage.
4. Experience counts. Make sure your attorney has a substantial background handling the type of criminal case in which you are charged.
5. Do your homework. Research the lawyer, including state and local bar association, referrals, and online reviews.
6. Prepare for your meeting with each lawyer- bring a thorough list of questions to discuss.
7. Interview at least three criminal defense lawyers, so you have a basis for comparison.
8. If you have an uncomfortable feeling about a lawyer, trust your instincts, and keep interviewing more attorneys. Don't be pressured by a fast sales pitch.
9. Make sure your goals and the lawyer's goals are consistent. Be absolutely forthcoming with the lawyer. The worst thing you can do is withhold information about the case, which causes your lawyer to be surprised at the wrong moment. The lawyer is your advocate and his or her job is to help you.
10. Get it in writing. In Los Angeles, legal representation agreements generally must be made in writing, with copies of these documents provided to the client.
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