Information You May Want to Consider Before Hiring a Criminal Lawyer
by Tulsa Criminal Attorney Kevin Adams ; LawyerAdams@me.com
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.
- Avoid the Mercedes Mentality
From time to time I hear people say that they are going to hire the "best lawyer" that there is to represent them on their criminal case. Who is the "best lawyer" in America? Well, I guess that depends on who you ask. In my opinion the best trial lawyer in America is Gerry Spence. Mr. Spence lives in Jackson, Wyoming and founded the Trial Lawyers College located in Dubois, Wyoming. I attend the Trial lawyers College in 2009 and I can tell you that if I were charged with a serious criminal offense there, is no other lawyer in America that I would rather have represent me. But the reality is that if I were charged with a serious criminal offense it is highly unlikely that I could afford the best or be able to persuade him to come down to Oklahoma to represent me. So I guess I would be looking for the best lawyer I could afford. Or the best lawyer I could afford that would agree to take my case, in that respect I would be like every other criminal defendant. The goal of everyone facing a serious crime should be to find the best lawyer they can afford that will take their case.
Just as with any other purchase “buyer beware”. You should take it upon yourself to carefully research an attorney 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. There are many lawyers in and around the Tulsa area and across Oklahoma that you would not want representing you on a serious criminal matter.
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 everyday of the 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. If your case does not require much attention the attorney's case load may not matter much to you.
Ask the attorney "who will be handling my case?" If the lawyer employees a lot of secretaries, paralegals and associates the lawyer has to pay their salary somehow. Often times lawyers such as this, have these types of employees doing the legal work on their client's cases. You may pay for a lawyer that you like and end up with a paralegal or associate doing most of if not all the work on your case
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. A criminal lawyer can give you his or her opinion on what is likely to happen , but when a lawyer starts guaranteeing and promising such things, you should run away from 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? Do not hire a lawyer because that lawyer tells you what you want to hear. If you keep looking long enough, you will find a lawyer that tells you what you want to hear, at least until the lawyer has been paid.
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?" Try to get some idea about who the lawyer is as a person. Do you like the lawyer? Do you feel comfortable placing your future in this lawyer's hands? This is especially true when you are facing a serious criminal offense such as lewd molestation, child abuse, sexual abuse of a minor, any sex crime or murder. You and your lawyer are going to spend a lot of time together and you need to get along with him or her.
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 ask yourself whether that lawyer's loyalties will be to you or to maintaining the relationship they claim to have with the judge or the prosecutor.
I am not telling you to avoid lawyers that drives a Mercedes. There are many reasons someone may want to drive a Mercedes or any other vehicle. I'm told that Mercedes are fine automobiles. What I am saying is there are some lawyers, and people for that matter, that act like they are more successful than they are. There are lawyers that love to dress fancy, drive fancy cars, get their initials embroidered into their clothing, wear fancy jewelry that are in fact terrible lawyers.
There is no accounting for taste, and perhaps that is that lawyers personal preference, but if a lawyer acts too fancy maybe it is just an act. You do not have to be a good lawyer to have enough money to dress fancy and drive nice cars, you only have to be a good businessman. You are not looking for a lawyer that is a businessman you are looking for one that is a "craftsman."
This is especially true if you are accused of a crime that may proceed to a jury trial, the jury will not know that the lawyer drives a Mercedes, and if they do know they won't care. A lawyer can act all he or she wants, but once the jury trial starts your lawyer better know what they are doing or you are in serious trouble.
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. Any prospective lawyer should be able to give you a good idea how much the case will cost through resolution.
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; perhaps 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? Of course the less work your lawyer will have to do on the case the less they should charge.
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.
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 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 and skilled trial attorney. "Trial is war, so find yourself a warrior"
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, the county and the verdict. In Tulsa County, Rogers County and Oklahoma County you can use use OSCN to verify what the attorney is telling you is true. In some of the other counties in Oklahoma (such as Mayes County, Okmulgee County and Osage County) you may have to search ODCR to verify what you are being told is true. 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?
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 hiring 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 actually 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?
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 attorney that 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.