Information You May Want to Consider Before
Hiring a Criminal Lawyer
by Tulsa Criminal Attorney Kevin Adams
©2008 Tulsa, Oklahoma
Hiring a criminal lawyer can be confusing and frustrating, especially for those individuals who have never had any dealings with the criminal justice system. Lawyers are trained to be persuasive and unfortunately some attorneys are unethical. Hiring a criminal attorney is especially frustrating because not only is it expensive, but your liberty is at stake. Before you hire a criminal lawyer there are some very important things that you should know.
Be a smart consumer
Trust your instincts
Look for an ethical criminal attorney
Get a written contract
You get what you pay for
You should seriously consider hiring a trial lawyer
The prosecutor assigned to your case will know if your attorney is a trial lawyer
Most criminal lawyers have little or no trial experience
Ask any prospective attorney for a list of cases they have taken to jury trial
Serious criminal charges require serious criminal lawyers
Look for Independent References
Just as with any other purchase “Buyer Beware”. You should take it upon yourself to carefully research a lawyer before spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on the lawyer. Just because somebody you know says that a lawyer is "good" does not make it so, you should take your time and do some research before hiring a criminal attorney.
Ask the attorney how many open cases they currently have. Ask the attorney how many days a week they appear in court. If an attorney has fifty or one hundred open cases and appears in court 3 to 5 days a week, than how much time will they be able to devote to your case? If you have a case that will require a lot of attention, you may want to consider hiring an attorney with a smaller case load.
Ask the lawyer how long he or she has been practicing. Just because a lawyer is older does not mean they have been practicing law for a long time.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you met with an attorney and the attorney promises you the moon, you should be leery of that lawyer. Ask a lawyer who makes such promises to make those promises in writing. I suspect they will not make those promises in writing. What does you gut instinct tell you. Do you like the lawyer? Is this someone that you feel comfortable trusting to defend you in a criminal case. Is this lawyer just telling you what they think you want to hear?
Some criminal lawyers engage in scare tactics. A lawyer should discuss the potential penalties of the offense you are charged with; however, some attorneys attempt to scare clients into hiring them. If you feel like your lawyer is trying to scare you into hiring them, you may want to look elsewhere.
Ask the prospective lawyer questions that will give you insight into who they are as a person. Questions such as why did you decide to go to law school? What made them decide to be a criminal lawyer?
- Look for an ethical criminal attorney
If you meet with an attorney and that lawyer tells you things such as “I play golf with the judge” or “the prosecutor and I are friends” be leery. There are hidden messages in statements such as these. The message is that because of the relationship that this lawyer will be able to get the judge or prosecutor to do something that they otherwise should not do. If a lawyer tells you things such as this, you should consider if that lawyer’s loyalties will be to you or to maintaining the relationship they claim to have with the judge or the prosecutor.
Insist on having a written fee agreement. Make sure the agreement addresses not just how much money you will have to pay down, but how much the case will cost you through the resolution of the case. Many times clients will pay all the money they have to a criminal attorney whom after the preliminary hearing tells that person that if they do not receive more money they are “getting off the case”. Make sure the contract addresses this issue.
Make sure the contract addresses expenses and scheduled payments. Get a receipt or pay with a check.
Often times the most expensive lawyers are not the ones who charge the most, but they are the lawyers who do not get results for their clients. If you value your liberty; perhaphs hiring the cheapest attorney you can find is not the way to go. If you are considering hiring a cheap attorney maybe you should ask yourself; Why they are willing to work so cheap?
- You should seriously consider hiring a trial lawyer.
Even if you are not planning on proceeding to trial you should consider hiring a lawyer with significant jury trial experience. Most of the time there are many opportunities to resolve a criminal case long before it reaches a jury trial. However, there is no guarantee that the prosecutor in your case will see the case from your prospective or offer a resolution that you feel that you can live with. If the prosecutor assigned to your case does not treat you fairly without a trial lawyer representing you proceeding to jury trial may not be a viable option.
- The prosecutor assigned to your case will know if your attorney is a trial lawyer.
Even if you do not know whether your attorney is a trial lawyer the prosecutor handling your case will. Even if the prosecutor handling your case is a new prosecutor, as the prospect of trial approaches he or she will ask his or her follow prosecutors about your lawyer.
- Most criminal lawyers have little or no trial experience.
Most people assume that whatever lawyer they hire will be able to conduct a trial if necessary. The truth is that the majority of criminal lawyers either have never had a jury trial or have never competently represented a client at a jury trial. Representing a defendant at a jury trial is a very complicated task and requires an experienced trial attorney.
- Ask any prospective attorney for a list of cases they have taken to jury trial.
Do your homework. Be an informed consumer. Just as with any other person you would hire to work for you, ask for references. While an attorney will likely not feel comfortable giving you names and phone numbers of former clients, they should be able to provide you with a list of jury trials they have represented their clients at and the results of the trial. This list should include the case name, the case number and the verdict. Then use OSCN or other court records, to verify what the attorney is telling you. If the attorney will not provide you with this list you have to ask yourself a serious question; Do you really want to trust your liberty to an attorney that cannot provide you with this basic information?
- Serious criminal charges require serious criminal lawyers
The serious criminal charges require experienced and skillful criminal attorneys. If you are charged with a crime that carries a serious penalty you would need a lawyer that has more experienced than if you were charged with crime with a less serious penalty. If you are suspected of a serious crime, you should consider hiring a trial lawyer. Even if you are not planning on proceeding to trial you should consider hiring a lawyer with significant jury trial experience. Most of the time there are many opportunities to resolve a criminal case long before it reaches a jury trial. However, there is no guarantee that the prosecutor in your case will see the case from your prospective or offer a resolution that you feel that you can live with. If the prosecutor assigned to your case does not treat you fairly without a trial lawyer representing you proceeding to jury trial may not be a viable option.
Here are some questions that will help you determine if the lawyer you are considering hirining is a serious lawyer.
- Has the lawyer had at least 10 jury trials as lead counsel?
- Has the lawyer won any of those trials? If so how many? Will the lawyer give you a list of jury trials they have had so you can verify what they are telling you?
- Does the lawyer go to Federal Court? Whether a criminal lawyer goes to Federal Court is a big dividing line among lawyers.
- Does the lawyer handled criminal appeals?
- Has the lawyer ever handled and death penalty cases?
- Does the lawyer write serious motions or just file "canned" form motions? Ask to see some of the lawyers writings. Is the motion over 2 to 3 pages? Is the lawyer actaully arguing the law and applying the law to the facts? Or is the lawyer just asking the judge to do something without any legal analysis?
Look for Independent References
The major independent ratings service for lawyers is Martindale.com. If you are charged with a serious criminal offense you may want to consider only hiring an attorneythat is listed by this rating system. I suggest you ask any lawyer you are considering hiring whether or not they are rated by this service.
Martindale.com Rating System
Listed below is an explanation of the Martindale-Hubbell peer review rating system as explained on Martindale.com.
The process of the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings service
The Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings service, which evaluates lawyers and law firms in the United States and Canada, is based on the confidential opinions of members of the Bar and the Judiciary, including both those who are rated and those who are not.
Martindale-Hubbell representatives conduct personal interviews to discuss lawyers under review with other members of the Bar. A compilation of these opinions from various sources is necessary to form a consensus, and lawyers under review are sometimes asked to provide professional references to assist with the process.
In addition, Confidential — a Martindale-Hubbell® Peer Review Ratings™ service of secure online surveys — or paper review sheets are sent to lawyers and judges in the same geographic location, area of practice or industry as the lawyer being rated. Members of the Bar are instructed to assess their colleague's legal ability and general ethical standards.
If reports indicate that the lawyer in question does not meet the highest ethical standards, further explanations are requested.
Regular Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings reviews
Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings are reviewed in stages over the course of a lawyer's career. The first review - to establish a rating - usually occurs five years after first admission to the Bar. Established Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings are reviewed every five to eight years thereafter - or earlier if Martindale-Hubbell receives information indicating that a lawyer's ethics or abilities are under question.
Disbarred or suspended lawyers automatically have their Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings removed. Bar admitting authorities continuously supply Martindale-Hubbell with disciplinary information.
All Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings review materials are strictly confidential, enabling participants to provide completely candid assessments of their colleagues. Under no circumstances are any Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings review materials released. It is also important to note that, since Martindale-Hubbell does not undertake to develop Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings for all lawyers, the fact that a lawyer is not rated should not be construed unfavorably.
An Explanation of the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings Categories
There are two components to Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings:
1. General Ethical Standards Rating
The General Ethical Standards Rating denotes adherence to professional standards of conduct and ethics, reliability, diligence and other criteria relevant to the discharge of professional responsibilities.
The General Recommendation Rating is:
V - Very High
A lawyer must receive a General Ethical Standards Rating before his or her review can proceed to the next step.
2. Legal Ability Ratings
Legal Ability Ratings take into consideration the standard of professional ability in the area where the lawyer practices, the lawyer's expertise, and other professional qualifications. If a lawyer's practice is limited or specialized, Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings are based on performance in those specific fields of law.
Legal Ability Ratings are:
C - Good to High
B - High to Very High
A - Very High to Preeminent
When both categories of Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings are confirmed, a lawyer receives an CV®, BV® or AV® Rating.
CV® Peer Review Rating — The CV® certification mark is a good first rating for lawyers and a definitive statement of their above-average ability and unquestionable ethics. This is the maximum rating a lawyer can receive who has been admitted to the bar from 3-4 years.
BV® Peer Review Rating — The BV® certification mark is an excellent rating for a lawyer with more experience. This is the maximum rating a lawyer can receive who has been admitted to the bar from 5-9 years.
AV® Peer Review Rating — An AV® certification mark is a significant rating accomplishment - a testament to the fact that a lawyer's peers rank him or her at the highest level of professional excellence. A lawyer must be admitted to the bar for 10 years or more to receive an AV® rating.
Disclaimer: Kevin D. Adams only provides legal advice after having entered into an attorney client relationship, which this website specifically does not create. Only after having entered into a representation agreement with Kevin D. Adams will an attorney-client relationship have been created. It is imperative that any action taken by you should be done on advice of legal counsel.* Because every case is different, the descriptions of outcomes and cases previously handled are not meant to be a guarantee of success.
Home | Cases in the News | Legal Information| Commonly Asked Questions
Ask me a Question | Links | About Kevin Adams | Contact Information
Tulsa Criminal Defense Lawyer: Kevin D. Adams