Let’s be real: facing a criminal charge is never a comfortable position to be in. It’s confusing, it’s scary, it’s frustrating, and even when you know logically that you need to hire a competent lawyer, your emotions can make it hard to think straight and act in your own best interest.
Here’s what you need to do: contact a criminal defense lawyer as soon as you can. Start by searching online for the best-rated lawyers in your area, but don’t just go with the first firm that comes up. Take time to speak with multiple criminal defense attorneys individually so you can get a feel for how each works, how she communicates and whether she’s a good fit for your case. This way, when it’s time to decide who’ll be handling your case, you have options.
During each of your consultations, make sure you ask the following five questions.
How Do you Bill Clients?
There’s actually two parts to this question: how do you charge and how much do you charge. There are a few different ways a criminal defense lawyer can bill his clients:
He can bill by the hour, which means he keeps track of how many hours he spends working on the client’s case and then bills her accordingly. Typically, this type of arrangement begins with a realistic estimate of how long the lawyer expects to work on the case. This kind of arrangement can be very cost-effective if you have a simple, straightforward case, but there’s never a guarantee it won’t end up taking way longer – and costing much more – than you expected.
More commonly, criminal defense lawyers work on retainer or for a fixed per-case rate.
A retainer is a fee you pay up front to cover your lawyer’s work on your case. This fee is based on your lawyer’s hourly rate and the number of hours he expects to spend working on your case. For example, if his hourly rate is $125 and he expects to spend 25 hours on your case, you’ll pay a $3,125 retainer fee. With this kind of arrangement, you can expect regular communication telling you how much time your lawyer has spent on your case so far. If he completes the number of hours in the original retainer and needs more time to work on your case, you’ll have to pay an additional fee.
A per-case rate is exactly what it sounds like: a fixed rate for a specific type of case. For example, your lawyer might charge $2,000 to handle an OWI case. With a fixed rate, it doesn’t matter how many hours your lawyer spends on your case; you pay that set price whether it’s resolved quickly or complications arise that draw it out. If your lawyer says he charges a per-case rate, ask him if that rate
covers everything or if it only covers the pretrial phase of the process. Many lawyers charge additional fees to try cases.
In addition to asking your lawyer how he bills his clients, ask for his rates. Although cost shouldn’t be the only factor you consider when you choose which lawyer to handle your case, you should make your decision knowing approximately how much you can expect to spend with each of the lawyers on your list.
Who Will be Handling my Case?
Another important question to ask is who will be handling your case. This means reviewing documents you’ve shared with your lawyer, filing paperwork with the court, gathering facts about your case and conducting legal research. Many lawyers delegate these tasks to paralegals, other attorneys and interns.
There are benefits and drawbacks to your lawyer taking this kind of team approach to your case. One huge benefit is that it can save you money, as paralegals, more junior associates and interns bill at lower rates than the attorney heading your defense. It can also mean your case is handled more efficiently. But it also means multiple people are handling your case’s documents, which can mean miscommunication between them, missed memos and the potential for information to get lost or distorted.
It’s up to you to determine whether you’re more comfortable working with a lawyer who handles every aspect of her clients’ cases on her own or if you’d prefer somebody who works with a team.
What is your Experience with Cases like Mine?
Here’s where online ratings don’t tell the whole story. A top-rated criminal defense lawyer might be the best in the business when it comes to handling sex crime charges, but have no experience defending clients against drug-related charges. If you’re facing a drug charge, that lawyer isn’t the right choice for you.
Although your lawyer cannot tell you all the details about his previous clients’ cases, he can broadly discuss his experience representing clients with circumstances similar to yours. You want to choose a lawyer who has experience defending clients against the type of charge you’re facing and a record of success with these clients. Keep in mind, though, that a lawyer’s previous successes do not guarantee a similar outcome for you. Every case is unique, and even two very similar-seeming cases can have very different outcomes. In fact, if your lawyer makes any type of guarantee, do not work with him. A criminal defense lawyer can guarantee he’ll do everything he can to reach the best possible outcome for you, but he cannot guarantee any specific outcome.
How Often Do you Go to Court?
Not every case goes to trial. Instead, lots of criminal cases are resolved through plea bargains, which is where the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for having his original charge
(or if he’s facing multiple charges, the remainder of them) dropped. This saves the court time and spares the defendant the possibility of facing more severe penalties.
While the prospect of resolving your case without heading to court can be appealing, you want to work with a lawyer who has the chops to defend your case in court if necessary. Ask this question as a follow-up to the previous one and ask specifically about her experience litigating cases like yours. A lawyer who has little experience going to court might not be able to defend you effectively and could be the difference between a conviction and an acquittal.
And How Often Can I Expect to Hear from You?
The last thing you absolutely need to find out during your initial consultation is how the lawyer communicates with his clients – and how often. Every lawyer communicates a little differently, so you want to work with somebody who communicates in a way that works for you. Find out if you can call him directly and discuss your case any time or if you need to schedule appointments to speak with him.
Some lawyers give their clients weekly updates on their cases, while others communicate more (or less!) frequently. The right amount of communication with your lawyer is completely up to you.
Don’t Wait to Start Talking with a Carmel Criminal Defense Lawyer
Remember, these five questions aren’t the only questions you should be asking during your consultation. Before your meeting, write down all the questions you have about everything that you feel is relevant, like issues related to specific details of your case and applicable state laws.
If you’re facing, or even potentially facing, any type of criminal charge, contact Blankenship Law, LLC now to schedule your legal consultation in our office. Don’t wait – be proactive and take the first steps in defending your case today.