When hiring an attorney, choosing the best to help you with your case is very important. You may be wondering what to look for when selecting a lawyer that best fits your needs. Below we discuss 5 important questions to ask when hiring a lawyer.
1. How much will this cost?
As a former public defender in Pinellas County’s Sixth Judicial Circuit, I am very familiar with the common misperceptions regarding the payment of attorney’s fees. All too often, I heard the words from client’s mouths, “I am going to hire a real attorney.” I was never offended by these words because hiring a real attorney meant that my caseload decreased. First of all, Public Defenders are real lawyers. Like any other profession, there are good ones and there are bad ones. Nonetheless, hiring an attorney and paying for legal services tends to equal peace of mind for clients. With that being said, it is important to know what you are paying for and what services you will receive in return. Criminal Defense attorneys typically charge a flat fee. The fee depends on the type of criminal charge the client faces and how complex the case is.
2. What is your experience in criminal law?
Many people believe that you get what you pay for. In most cases this is true. I attended a legal function recently with several criminal defense attorneys in Pinellas County. One attorney was passing out cards guaranteeing a DUI defense for $999.00. This offer may be tempting for the unsuspecting client but beware of offers such as these from Criminal Defense attorneys. Every case is unique and an experienced attorney will evaluate a case before quoting a price. When hiring an attorney, always find out how long your attorney has been practicing criminal law. What percentage of his or her practice is dedicated to criminal law? A good attorney is always prepared to fight for you in court, which in turn may require a trial, so you should ask how many jury trials your attorney has under his or her belt. Although most cases are settled short of trial, many have to be litigated. Your attorney should evaluate a case for issues that may require pre-trial motions. Is your attorney current with the law? Your attorney should be able to answer questions regarding his or her experience without hesitation.
3. Do you believe in my case?
This is a tricky question. An attorney has an obligation to the client, to be honest. My law partner and I always have a conversation we call, “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.” We discuss the range of possibilities associated with a criminal case. Some of the best cases have resulted in guilty verdicts and some of the worst cases result in not guilty verdicts. These are the exceptions as most cases that need to be resolved are resolved and those that need to be litigated go to trial. When hiring an attorney, they should not tell you what you want to hear to convince you to retain him or her. You should be leery of the fast-talking attorney that makes promises about your case that he or she cannot possibly keep. An attorney should promise open communication, honesty, aggressive defense, and 100% dedication to you and the successful resolution to your case.
4. Are there any hidden fees?
Although most criminal defense attorneys charge flat fees, you should be aware that your case may require lengthy motions or a trial. When hiring an attorney, you should know whether your fee includes motions and a trial if necessary. If this is not part of your agreement and you anticipate going to trial, re-write your agreement. You should know if your fee includes miscellaneous costs associated with litigation. Do not be intimidated by a fee contract drafted by an attorney. If you have a question, especially about fees, ask and get the answer in writing. I hear of horror stories associated with attorney-client fee disputes. When hiring an attorney that is fair, they will have no problem making everything clear in the fee agreement.
5. If I pay more to an attorney for my criminal charge, am I more likely to win my case?
The amount you pay should not drive the caliber of your representation. After hiring an attorney, that attorney is ethically bound to represent your best interests at all times. An attorney has an obligation to charge a reasonable fee based on the extent of experience in his or her field of practice and a complete assessment on the complexity of the case. This is why you have to address question number 2 prior to signing any fee agreement. Hire the attorney you feel most comfortable with after a full discussion regarding your goals and the attorney’s experience.