When people ask me what they should look for in hiring a criminal attorney, I tell them there are a number of factors to consider.
Do you feel comfortable with the attorney when you meet them face-to-face? Is this attorney going to spend the time necessary to understand the particulars of your case? Are they up front with you about what you can expect in terms of potential outcomes, and the risks involved? Additional things to consider when beginning your search:
1. EXPERIENCE, EXPERIENCE, EXPERIENCE: There simply is no substitute for hands on experience in a criminal courtroom. It is by far the most important consideration in choosing a criminal lawyer. Every case is different, as are the personalities of each, judge, prosecutor and law enforcement officer. Attorneys that have been around the local legal landscape for a long time tend to be more expensive, but it is often money well spent. Former prosecutors from your district are often good bets, as assistant district attorneys have often had extensive trial and plea bargaining experience that someone who starts out on the defense side might not have.
BUT, keep this in mind: If you have a unique case, or an especially complex case, younger lawyers with moderate experience tend to be hungry. They are eager to establish their own reputations. They will have more time to research caselaw and do background investigation. They will pour blood, sweat and tears into your defense. They might be willing to try a novel legal argument much quicker than a more established attorney. A less-established attorney will also have more time to spend with you one-on-one. They will have fewer cases, and will probably be paid less for each of those cases, so each case to the less-established attorney is important.
2. AVOID ATTORNEYS WHO PROMISE OUTCOMES: Criminal attorneys are seldom assured of any particular outcome in a case. We operate in a field that is filled with uncertainty. We can, however, offer you a forecast of what to expect when your case goes to court.
3. STREET SMARTS: Common sense and how the real world works is important. We are a people-based practice area, and have to understand practical realities. A grasp of legal statutes is critical, but criminal lawyers spend far more time with real people than holed up in law libraries.
4. COMMUNICATION SKILLS AND LISTENING: Look for an attorney that can explain the law to you in easy to understand terms. Does the attorney listen to your story without interruptions? Does he or she explain to you possible defenses you may have to a particular charge? If you come away from an initial consultation feeling befuddled or misunderstood, look for another lawyer.
5. SOMEONE WHO IS NOT AFRAID TO GO TO TRIAL: The client always controls the decision of whether to accept a plea offer or go to trial. Plea bargaining often results in the best possible outcome for a client. Good things, however, can also come from forcing the State to prove its case. Let your intuition tell you whether this is an attorney you can go into battle with.
6. CONFIDENTIALITY: The attorney client relationship requires trust based on an oath of confidentiality. If you have any questions about a lawyer’s integrity or ability to keep privileged communications confidential, move on.
7. HOME COOKING: Always look for a criminal attorney who practices mainly in the county where you are charged. Counties in North Carolina vary widely in how they deal with crimes such as DWI, domestic assaults, and simple speeding tickets. They also can be notoriously inhospitable to outside lawyers.