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The criminal justice system is confusing and complex, and just like any profession you will find good lawyers and bad. Here are at least 5 signs that you may be dealing with a bad criminal defense attorney.
One good way to gauge how responsive an attorney might be is to observe how responsive they are before they are hired.
It starts with the initial contact. Are they easy to get ahold of? Good, experienced criminal defense firms and lawyers make themselves available 24 hours a day, even if it’s only by telephone. Bad attorneys are hard to get ahold of and communicate poorly.
An efficient staff is a sign of an experienced firm. Does the attorney have a support team? For a very simple case a one-man or one-woman office might be enough. For more complex cases even the most experienced attorney will need support staff such as:
2. TALKING TO THE ATTORNEY
Bad attorneys talk about themselves. Good attorneys want to hear YOU talk. Someone who is going to represent you or your loved one will want to know:
How did the police become involved?
Were you arrested?
They’ll want to know all about you. What kind of work do you do? How will criminal charges affect you? Your family? Your future?
As you talk and explain your situation to an experienced attorney he or she will begin to develop a case strategy. For an attorney who has “been there before” it’s second nature.
Do witnesses need to be interviewed or re-interviewed?
Does the scene need to be visited?
Pictures taken? Videos acquired?
Is there evidence that needs to be preserved?
What needs to be done RIGHT NOW?
Bad attorneys won’t ask many of these questions. If you’re not impressed with the attorney you’re speaking to or the way they explain things, imagine the impression he or she will make on the prosecutor who is handling your case.
Bad attorneys will sometimes make specific promises about what they can do for you. “I’ll get that evidence thrown out!” OR, “That judge never makes my clients post bail.”
Bad attorneys will even try to scare you into hiring them. “You’re going to jail if you don’t hire me.”
It’s an ethical violation for an attorney to:
Guarantee or warranty regarding the outcome of a legal matter as a result of representation by that attorney. (See Business and Professions code 6157.2)
Experienced and professional criminal defense attorneys will calmly and clearly explain complicated legal procedures, strategies, and possible case outcomes.
You should be honest when you consult with an attorney. Let them know what you want to accomplish. For example:
I want to stay out of jail.
I have to keep my license.
I’m innocent and I will fight this all the way.
By understanding your case and what you hope to accomplish, a good defense attorney can judge the complexity of your case and quote you a fair price for the work involved.
A good attorney will always provide a written fee agreement that clearly details fees and costs so that there are no misunderstandings later.
4. EXPERIENCE MATTERS
Experience matters, but it must be the right type. It’s important that the attorney you talk to has a great deal of experience with your type of case, whether it’s a DUI, domestic violence, sex crime, or some other type of crime. It’s a good idea to ask, “How many cases like mine have you handled?”
LOCATION MATTERS TOO
A good attorney will have an office and work in an established area where they become familiar with the local system. Relationships with judges, prosecutors, probation officers and court staff are important and can only be built over time.
Knowing who to talk to, who the decision makers are, and the most effective way to get the job done can prevent excessive jail time, excessive fines, and unnecessary punishment.
Bad attorneys don’t have good reputations.
Good attorneys nowadays have websites that provide valuable information to their clients and the public. The Internet is a good place to start when searching for a good criminal attorney.
Online reviews are important and will contain clues as to how an attorney operates:
Was the attorney punctual and on time?
Were they knowledgeable and able to explain things??
Did they get results?
Another place for information is the state bar website. At a minimum it will tell you if an attorney has ever been disciplined. Being disciplined by the state bar is NOT the sign of a good attorney. http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Attorneys
The bottom line is that being arrested and facing criminal charges can be life-changing. Finding the right (good) attorney at the right time is one of the most important decisions a person can make. It’s worth the time and effort it takes to make the right choice.
About the Author
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.