16 Things to Avoid and 9 Questions You Should Ask When Hiring Your Defense Attorney
If you’ve never hired a criminal defense attorney before here are 16 Red Flags you should look out for:
While the presence of a few of these indicators do not necessarily indicate an attorney who will provide inferior or substandard representation, if you note several or many of these characteristics in your initial contacts with any attorney you are considering hiring, you should be concerned.
Red Flag: An attorney, bondsman on behalf of an attorney, or anyone who solicits you directly. This is a felony offense. The State Bar of Texas allows attorneys to advertise by mail but the potential client must initiate the contact.
Red Flag: An attorney who tells you he will look at the State’s file and the offense report before you hire him. Prosecutors do not routinely make their files available except to the attorney of record on the case. An attorney may have to lie to prosecutors to see their file, saying that he has been retained on the case, when in fact he has not. Those attorneys who do this compromise their reputation with the prosecutors.
Red Flag: An attorney who claims expertise or experience, including awards and membership in many organizations, but few impressive results. While this could indicate an attorney just beginning his practice, it could also indicate lack of superior legal skills and diligence.
Red Flag: An attorney who states he is a trial lawyer but lists very few trial victories or an attorney who states he handles primarily offenses of a certain type of crime but lists very few victories in that offense category.
Red Flag: An attorney who promises you or guarantees you he will get your case dismissed or “beat your case”. This is unethical; no attorney can guarantee you they can obtain a dismissal or otherwise “beat your case”.
Red Flag: An attorney who tells you he will get your case dismissed but does not explain that he is referring to the “dismissal” that comes after deferred adjudication. This is not something he can promise as it depends on whether you comply with the terms of your probation.
Red Flag: An attorney who says he does not need to meet with you prior to court, that he will just meet you on the morning of court. Meeting with a client prior to court is ideal if there is time to do so between the arrest and the first court date. While not meeting prior to court is not necessarily indicative of a lack of diligence on the part of the attorney, this could indicate he is not making any preparations on your case.
Red Flag: An attorney who tells you your case will not go to trial. This could indicate that he has made that decision already for you. This is not his decision; it is yours.
Red Flag: An attorney or staff member who will not take the time to find out the details of your case before telling you what he can do for you and what his fee is. How can he know how much work your case will require, and how he may be able to help you, if he or his staff doesn’t first inquire into your background and the circumstances of the case?
Red Flag: An attorney who is rude, boorish, condescending, impatient, or in a hurry to get off the phone with you. If this is how he is treating you now, how will he treat you once you have become his client?
Red Flag: An attorney whose fees are extremely low. This could indicate a number of undesirable factors, such as an extremely high case load; that your case may not get the attention it requires; an attorney with little experience; or that there will be additional fees for additional services.
Red Flag: An attorney who will not guarantee his fee in writing or will not give you a total fee telling you what it includes and does not include.
Red Flag: An attorney who answers his own phones, at all hours of the day or night, even when in court on someone else’s case. This could mean the attorney does not have a staff, such as secretary, office manager, legal assistant, etc., and that he is over-extended in trying to handle everything by himself – an impossibility if the case is to be defended properly and to the fullest extent.
Red Flag: An attorney who will not give you a receipt for payment or who requires you to come to his office to get a receipt for payment. If you pay an attorney in the courtroom you are entitled to a receipt then and there.
Red Flag: An attorney who does not have an individual file for each client’s case. This could indicate an attorney with an extremely high case load and one who does not handle his cases with care and attention to detail.
Red Flag: An attorney who does not devote the majority of his practice to criminal defense but also handles divorce, personal injury, etc. Criminal law is too specialized to risk an attorney distracted by handling multiple types of cases and areas of law.
9 Questions You or Your Prospective Attorney Should be Able to Answer Yes to:
1. Does he have a reputation as a zealous trial attorney, as an attorney who routinely tries cases, rather than that of a plea-bargain attorney? [This is important since trial lawyers usually obtain better plea agreements.]
2. Does he have extensive experience, specialized training and an impressive array of results to back it up in my case category?
3. Does he have a professional office and support staff to assist him in the handling of my case? If not, he’s trying to do everything himself – an impossibility, if your case is to be handled properly.
4. Do he and his staff communicate well with me, listen to me and do they seem genuinely concerned about me, my case and what happens to me and my family as a result of the outcome of my case?
5. Does he devote 100%, or the overwhelming majority, of his practice to criminal defense?
6. Does he regularly appear in the court I am charged in and is he familiar with the judge and prosecutors in my court? [Note: Mr. Haggard, when hired as “Lead Counsel” for non-Federal cases outside Texas, recommends associating with local counsel as “Second Chair” for this reason.]
7. Does he handle all his own cases or will he refer my case to a junior associate? [Note: It’s sometimes necessary for another attorney to assist in a case when the lead attorney is in trial or out of county on another case; this does not indicate that the case has been referred to that assisting attorney.]
8. Is he a former prosecutor, preferably a former Chief, and if so did he leave the DA’s office in good standing as opposed to being asked to resign? [The DA’s office only retains the best; many junior DA’s are asked to leave after a short, unsatisfactory stint in the DA’s office. Further, a former Chief knows the opposition, having worked within the DA’s office, much better than other para-support personnel such as former police officers and former probation officers.]
9. Do I have complete confidence in his ability to professionally handle my case?