How do I choose a defence lawyer?
When charged with a criminal offence, it is highly important that you speak with a criminal defence lawyer right away. Often your first phone call is the most important because it generally means you are in custody and the police want you to give a statement. Once released, many people think that they don’t need a defence lawyer for a variety of reasons such as cost, they believe the charges are no big deal or they can just convince the judge that they are innocent. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system is a complex and difficult path to navigate. Just like you wouldn’t perform your own root canal, you shouldn’t try to defend yourself from criminal charges that can have a lifelong impact on your liberty, employment and ability to travel.
There are many factors to consider before retaining a criminal defence lawyer. Far too often, individuals charged with criminal offences fire their lawyers after falling for their original sales pitch which may have been misleading as to costs, experience and potential outcomes.
One of the most important considerations in hiring a defence lawyer is their experience representing individuals charged with the same offence as you. Not all criminal defence lawyers are made the same and it is important to ask questions about their knowledge and experience not in criminal law generally, but with respect to your specific charges. Some defence lawyers only practice in certain areas of criminal law, such as impaired driving, but claim to have significant experience in other areas. While they may have been a lawyer for 20 years, they may not have the specific experience you are looking for and need.
Another important consideration is the lawyer’s fees. Almost all criminal defence lawyers charge block fees rather than by the hour. Costs vary upon complexity, size of disclosure, length of trial and a myriad of other factors. While it is nearly impossible to provide a quote for the total fees during the initial consultation, the defence lawyer should be able to give a rough estimate. You should also ask the lawyer about the transparency of their billing and ensure there will be no last-minute increase in fees the night before trial.
It is very important to find a lawyer who takes the time to explain your case, options and the criminal court process. The decisions you make after being charged with a criminal offence can have lifelong impacts and should not be made on a whim. Before hiring a defence lawyer, make sure they are going to treat you like a person, not dollar signs.
Another important inquiry to make of your defence lawyer is to find out who you are actually hiring. Some lawyers pass off your file to a less experienced junior lawyer to do all the work while still charging you the senior lawyer rate. You are entitled to know who is working on your file and who will attend your court appearances.
When choosing the right defence lawyer, it is imperative that you feel comfortable with the person you are choosing. You have to feel confident placing your life in their hands and knowing that they have your best interests in mind.
One of the biggest red flags in retaining a criminal defence lawyer is if he or she gives you a guarantee. If the lawyer guarantees they will get your charges withdrawn or win at trial, ask them to put it in writing and contingent on you paying them. If they are unwilling to do so, you know the guarantee means nothing. Unfortunately, with very rare exception, there are no guarantees in criminal law.
In the end, the right criminal defence lawyer is the one you feel the most comfortable working with and who can solve your problem effectively and efficiently.