FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2012-05-17
The day you or a loved one is accused of a crime is usually the worst day of your life. Do you go pay a bondsman? Do you ask for a court-appointed lawyer? Do you try to hire an attorney? And if so, how do you decide which lawyer to hire? How do you know that the one you choose is the best lawyer for you?
Most people already know that lawyers are advocates and legal counselors because nearly every advertisement says this in one way or another. However, not every attorney has the training and experience to handle every type of case. Just because a lawyer advertises on television, on billboards or in the newspaper does not mean that person is the right lawyer for you.
The right lawyer for you is the one that has the legal training and experience to properly analyze your case; prepare it properly; and represent you and advocate on your behalf to the prosecutor, the judge and, if appropriate, the jury.
This article will highlight some of characteristics that make a good criminal defense lawyer, and allow you to understand the answers to those very important interview questions that you must be asking when it comes time to pick your lawyer.
A Good Criminal Attorney Knows the Law. While this should go without saying, not every attorney tries to stay current with the changes in criminal law. A good criminal defense lawyer usually has access to a law library and online legal research sites, and receives regular updates on the changes in criminal law that occur every day. By staying current, a lawyer stays knowledgeable in the law and the legal precedents that apply to the crime being charged. Because a good criminal attorney knows the law, he or she is able to pick out unique aspects of your case that support a defense or may favor your position.
A Good Criminal Attorney Knows How to Work Your case. There is usually a significant amount of legwork that goes into the development of every case. This may include locating and questioning witnesses, reviewing police reports and witness statements made against you, researching legal technicalities, evaluating possible legal defenses, and hiring experts to conduct further tests and investigations. A good criminal attorney is a master of all these essential components, and knows how to coordinate them based upon his or her many years of experience in handling similar cases. Then, after properly preparing a client’s case, a good criminal attorney knows how to present that case to a judge and jury.
A Good Criminal Attorney Spends Time With the Client. A competent attorney will always spend all the time necessary to interview the client, and learn everything about that client and his or her case that is relevant to the legal representation. After consulting with the client and completing his or her case preparation, a good criminal attorney will objectively review the case and help the client understand its strengths and weaknesses, and propose realistic goals and outcomes. On some occasions, the facts may warrant telling a client that the possibilities of having the charges dropped or the client being acquitted are very small, and in that case will clearly explain the benefits and consequences of nevertheless proceeding to trial or, in the alternative, pleading guilty. Sometimes the best possible outcomes are very serious, and if a client decides to plead guilty, a good criminal attorney will likely be able to secure a positive negotiated outcome under the circumstances.
A Good Criminal Attorney Is Experienced. The single most important characteristic a good criminal lawyer has is his or her training and experience. An attorney that has 20 or 30 years of criminal law trials has the knowledge and expertise to be able to competently perform all the required tasks to properly handle a criminal case. Such an attorney has had many years of interviewing clients and witnesses and learned how to obtain valuable information that can help a client’s case. He or she has read hundreds — if not thousands — of police reports and witness statements and has developed a sense to detect when there are important facts being omitted or mischaracterized. He or she knows which defenses are sellable to a jury and whether the client will make a believable witness. A good criminal attorney has the experience to know who are the best expert witnesses. And importantly, a good criminal attorney knows the judges and the legal arguments to make (or avoid) under the circumstances.
Experienced and Skilled Criminal Attorneys Are Board Certified Specialists. Excellent criminal attorneys have all of the foregoing characteristics, and are particularly skilled in the practice of criminal law. The State Bar of Texas has created an organization to certify highly trained criminal law attorneys by requiring each candidate to demonstrate proficiency in each of the particularized skills. An additional organization, the National Board of Trial Advocacy, also certifies to the exceptional competence of criminal attorneys. Some of the most qualified Texas attorneys are board certified both by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and the National Board of Trial Advocacy.
By hiring a Board Certified Criminal Law Specialist, you can be assured that your attorney has been determined to have those characteristics of a good criminal defense lawyer, and will be a good choice for you.