If you are preparing to hire a criminal defense lawyer, be sure to read this article before your first consultation and consider asking your lawyer the 10 questions outlined below while interviewing him or her. By having questions ready before your first consultation, you will be able to make the most out of the meeting and should be able to walk away with a good sense of whether or not the criminal defense lawyer that you just met with is a good fit for you.
1. If I Hire You, How Much Will it Cost Me?
This is a very important question to ask as you certainly do not want to be blindsided by exorbitant attorney’s fees later on. However, this can be a complicated question for an attorney to answer during an initial consultation because at this point they haven’t fully researched your case and don’t know if the case will end up going to trial. Therefore, consider asking the follow up questions listed below:
- Do you charge an hourly rate or a flat fee?
- Will I be required to pay a retainer fee?
- Does going to trial impact your fee?
- Are there any expenses in addition to your fee that I will have to pay?
2. What Can I Do to Help My Case?
Although your criminal defense attorney will take charge of your case, there are often actions that criminal defendants themselves can take in order to improve the outcome of their case. Each criminal case is unique and your lawyer will be able to make personalized recommendations to you, however, it may be beneficial to ask your lawyer if taking any of the following actions would be helpful:
- Gathering together documents or records related to your case for your lawyer, or
- Enrolling in an anger management class, substance abuse rehabilitation program, or counseling in the hopes of lessening your sentence.
On the flip side, it is also a good idea to ask your lawyer if there is anything that you should refrain from doing. For example, your attorney may advise you not to speak to the press or to witnesses involved in your case. Following your attorney’s advice regarding these types of matters can make a big difference in your case.
3. Are There Any Sentencing Alternatives Available in My Case?
In some criminal cases there are sentencing alternatives that allow a court to punish someone without requiring that person to serve time in prison. For example, an alternative punishment may include home detention, community service, probation, therapy, or work programs. During your initial consultation it is important to ask your lawyer if there are any sentencing alternatives available. Be sure to also discuss the pros and cons of any proposed sentencing alternatives that may be available to you.
4. Do You Have Experience Handling My Type of Criminal Charge?
Picking a criminal defense lawyer who has experience representing clients who have been in your position is very important, as these attorneys are already familiar with this area of the law and will be able to hit the ground running. Also, keep in mind that not all criminal defense lawyers have experience representing the same types of defendants. For example, if you are facing murder charges a criminal defense lawyer who has been practicing law for 10 years representing DUI defendants probably is not as well equipped to represent you as an attorney who has been representing murder defendants for the past five years. Don’t be shy – ask your lawyer how long they have been practicing criminal law, what percentage of their cases involve clients facing the same charge as you, and any other question that will help you judge how much experience they have handling your type of criminal case.
5. Will You Be Handling My Case Yourself?
During your initial consultation it is important to ask the attorney if they will be handling your case personally, and in what capacity. In some larger firms your case work may be passed off to a less experienced junior attorney or to a case manager. In other instances the senior partner that you initially meet with may not even be the lawyer who will eventually be representing you in court. Therefore, it is best to ask this question right off the bat in order to avoid surprises later on down the road. However, keep in mind that having your case work delegated is not always a bad thing as your lawyer can sometimes save you money by delegating basic case work to employees within their firm who have a lower hourly rate. The key is to make sure that your lawyer is going to be involved in all important aspects of your case.
6. Can You Guarantee the Outcome of My Case?
This one is something of a trick question as any lawyer who guarantees a certain outcome to your case is likely just saying what you want to hear in an attempt to get your business. However, an experienced criminal defense attorney should be able to analyze your case, talk about the possible legal outcomes, and predict what is likely to happen in your case. Keep in mind that there is a big difference between an attorney who guarantees an outcome and one who predicts what is likely to happen. Additionally, a good followup question would be to ask what is the best-case scenario and what is the worst-case scenario.
7. Did the Police Violate My Civil Rights?
Be prepared to tell your lawyer about any police interaction that you had prior to your arrest, during your arrest, and while you were detained. Providing your lawyer with a detailed account of your experience is very important because if the police violated your civil rights your lawyer may be able to get your charges dismissed, even if you are guilty. Therefore, it is a good idea to ask your lawyer during the initial consultation if they think that your civil rights were violated in any way.
8. Have You Ever Been Sanctioned For Professional Misconduct?
You may feel slightly awkward asking this question but it is important that you do. You have a right to know if your attorney has ever been sanctioned for attorney misconduct, and while you can obtain this information from your state bar association asking your attorney about any misconduct in person gives them a chance to explain the circumstances surrounding a violation.
9. Do You Have Any Conflicts of Interest?
In South Carolina, as well as in every other state, lawyers are required to advise their clients of any conflicts of interest. A conflict of interest exists if there is a substantial risk that the lawyer’s representation of their client would be materially and negatively affected by the lawyer’s own interests or by the lawyer’s duty to someone else. For example, the lawyer that you are interviewing may have a conflict of interest if they are already representing the co-defendant in your criminal case. Even though your lawyer is required to disclose any conflict of interest to you it is still a very good idea to ask this question during your initial consultation.
10. Why Should I Hire You?
Apart from hiring a lawyer who is experienced, professional, and knowledgeable, it is also very important to retain a lawyer who you trust and have confidence in. By simply asking the attorney sitting across from you why you should hire them you are giving them a chance to sell themselves to you and hopefully their response will inspire confidence. It is very important that you have confidence in your attorney’s abilities and trust them because this will enable the two of you to work together to build the best legal defense possible.
Need Legal Advice?
If you have been charged with a crime in South Carolina, or anticipate that you may soon be charged, employing the right criminal defense attorney for you can make all the difference in your case. Our experienced criminal defense attorneys in Greenville, SC are here to help. Contact Lauren Taylor Law today to get started.