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Choosing a Lawyer (slightly worse than root canal)

At some point, usually early on, a defendant has to choose a lawyer. The process of choosing a lawyer ranks right up there with route canal and getting a colonoscopy. It is grueling, stressful and mentally taxing. A defendant is there not by choice but by necessity. It is going to cost, at least a moderate sum of money and the outcome is not even assured. It is also, quite possibly the most important decision a defendant has to make.

Before going into what to look for in a lawyer, it is important to realize what a lawyer is not. A lawyer is not a yes-man. Just because a defendant has a view of something that doe not mean the view is correct. If a defendant wants a lawyer who just agrees with everything he says, then he might as well save his money and hire himself. A lawyer is not a life coach who is there to help deal with personal problems. A lawyer is not a friend. A lawyer is not there to predict the outcome of a trial and say one way or another if a defendant will be found guilty or not guilty. A lawyer is none of these things.

What a lawyer is, is an advocate. A lawyer is there simply to put up the best possible defense for a client and look at the facts from all angles. A lawyer is there to lay out the defendant's position and explain to him what the prosecution is alleging. A lawyer is there to provide LEGAL (not personal) counsel. He is a mouthpiece for a defendant when it comes to the press and to the prosecutor. He is there to make sure that a defendant does not do anything to jeopardize his situation. One analogy I was once given is that someone in legal trouble has legal cancer and the lawyers are the doctors. He runs your life and coordinates with other lawyers if the case is complex, as mine was.

So how does one choose a lawyer? There are so many options and it can be very confusing. Does he choose the million dollar lawyer or does he choose the lawyer for a fraction of that. Does he choose the lawyer who goes to trial or the lawyer that always please out. Does he choose the lawyer with the nice office or the ugly office. Veteran or young lawyer. There are so many choices and there really is no right answer.

The first advice I would give is that there has to be a level of trust between a client and his lawyer, If a client dies not trust his lawyer then he will never be able to properly prepare for his defense. There needs to be some sort of rapport between a lawyer and client. Another must is to interview multiple lawyers and talk to people who have used them if possible, It is impossible to make an informed decision without comparing products. The same holds true for doctors and lawyers. A person who is in need of a criminal lawyer is often at his most vulnerable and will be inclined to hire the first layer he meets or the lawyer that someone sends to handle his bond hearing. Big mistake. A defendant needs to take the time-but not too much time-to meet with lawyers and decide which lawyer makes him feel the most confident.

There are of course many types of lawyers. Some cost a large fortune and some cost a small fortune. Some charge hourly and some charge a lump sum for the case. Clearly, not everyone can afford the million dollar lawyer. More importantly, not everyone needs the million dollar lawyer even if he can afford it. Obviously, if a defendant is a major player in a high profile case, and is determined to fight charges at trial, then yes, ny all means, hire the best trial lawyer money can buy. Aside from possibly giving him the best chance at trial, the hiring of the best sends a signal to the prosecution that a defendant is not just going sit back and take a plea. If the prosecution wants him to plea, it send the signal that it better be enticing. Similarly, if someone is a minor player in a low profile case, and knows that he is going to plead out, there really is no reason to hire the most expensive lawyer that money can buy. Often times a second or third tier or even public defender will be able to accomplish the exact same result at a fraction of the cost. Prosecutors will attest that they often offer everybody in a case the same deal whether they hire the top tier or a lower tier. One guy get the deal for $50 thousand and the other guy gets it for $500 thousand.

Of course, a defendant also has to know what he can afford. Is it worth spending an exorbitant amount of money in order to get slightly better deal. For some people the answer is yes and for some it is no. Another misconception is that price equals quality. Nothing could be farther from the truth. True, higher quality lawyers usually do cost more. but there are plenty of outstanding lawyers who are not at the same price point. On the other hand one advantage of hiring the high priced lawyer is that they usually take less cases per year so they are much more accessible than a lawyer who charges less but takes more cases.For some defendants this is important, for some it isn't. Nevertheless, budgetary concerns need to be taken into account. If the worse case is minimal time in prison, for most people it does not make financial sense to spend everything he has (and more) on attorneys fees.

One thing to always keep in mind is that is that just because a lawyer was used for the initial court appearance does not mean that he is the lawyer for the rest of the case. Obviously, they first appearance and immediately afterward is usually when a defendant feels most vulnerable, His head is simply not in the game as he is dealing with so many cross currents. I know of many people who made this mistake and cost them dearly. As I mentioned, trust is critical between a client and his lawyer. At no point should a defendant feel obligated to stay with an attorney with whom he is not comfortable.

Something to consider is trying to use the public defender. There are some very good public defenders at the federal level. The state level, unfortunately is an entirely other matter. Federal public defenders, deal with federal crimes which are much more "sophisticated" crimes than the run of the mill state crime. These are individuals who are trying to get as much experience as possible as before they head into private practice.  This is especially so in the white collar arena. If a defendant is resigned to plea sometimes this can be the best option, provided a defendant qualifies for the use of a public defender. There are plenty of good ones so it really is a viable option that a defendant should explore when there are overriding financial concerns. Unfortunately when dealing with a public defender, he cannot be "fired" absent a conflict.

Choosing a lawyer is never easy. However it is important. It is critical that a defendant understands his predicament in a case when choosing a lawyer. Obviously, when fighting for his life the knee-jerk reaction is to retain the best lawyer money can buy. What a defendant needs to understand is that it does not always make sense to buy the Bentley when a Ford will get him to the same destination at a fraction of the cost.


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