Most people don’t have a criminal defense attorney on speed dial, and it’s the type of attorney you never thought you would need. However, if you’ve been charged with a crime in North Carolina, you are in need of representation now. Whether it’s a felony or a misdemeanor, a criminal conviction can have long and far reaching impact on your life. But if you’ve never had to search for an attorney before, how do you go about finding one and how do you know you’re hiring the right person for the job?
- Make sure the attorney you hire actually practices criminal law. Each area of the law is very different. Lawyers are similar to doctors in that they have different specialties or focus areas. While there are some general practitioners, you want a specialist. You wouldn’t go to a heart doctor if you broke your leg, so why would you to go a real estate attorney for a criminal matter? You want to be careful of lawyers who practice too many different areas of the law because there’s a possibility that he could know a little about all those areas but not have the in-depth knowledge you need about your particular issue.
- Experience with your type of case. You want to find someone that has many cases under his belt for the exact thing you’ve been charged with. Even better, if the lawyer has seen fact patterns similar to yours in previous cases, he will be better equipped to handle your case. Every case is different. Many criminal attorneys have handled hundreds of DWI cases, but have they handled one like yours?
- Reputation. What is the lawyer’s reputation in the community? In the internet age, this is easy to find out. Do they have reviews on Google, Avvo, Yelp, the Better Business Bureau, etc.? It’s not hard to do research on attorneys to learn what other people are saying about them and if they’ve ever been disciplined by the bar association.
- Make sure you’re comfortable. Your attorney is not there to be your friend. He is there to be a bulldog and fight your case. You need to feel confident that your attorney is competent, experienced, and that he will fight for you. If you get a bad feeling when talking to a prospective attorney, go with your gut. Most cases take time to resolve, so this is a relationship that you’ll be in for many months. You need to make sure you’re comfortable talking to your attorney, asking questions, and that he’s doing what you need him to do.
- Know who’s handling your case. Most criminal defense firms are small – just one or two attorneys. But some are larger or are a division of a large firm that does multiple types of law. Make sure that when you hire a firm, you know which attorney will be handling your case. The last thing you want is to hire a firm thinking your getting the big gun that has a lot of experience only to show up to court with a junior attorney that’s still wet behind the ears.
- Don’t go cheap. The saying, “You get what you pay for” is true even for attorneys. If you can’t afford to hire a GOOD attorney, ask for a public defender. Cheap attorneys are usually cheap for a reason, they don’t have a lot of demand for their services and they are scrambling to make ends meet. A cheap attorney that’s also a bad attorney can often do more harm than good. Many people make the mistake of thinking that any attorney is better than no attorney, or better than a public defender, but this is usually not the case. While most people aren’t expecting to have to shell out money for a criminal lawyer, you need to think of it as an investment in your future. I can’t tell you the number of cases that I’ve inherited from bad attorneys that someone hired because that attorney was the cheapest, and now the case is messed up and it’s costing the client twice as much for me to fix it as it would have cost had they originally hired me. In the long run, cheap usually isn’t cheapest when you take everything into consideration.
This is a big decision. Do your homework and make the best choice possibly by doing your research.