Selecting Your Virginia Criminal or DUI Defense Lawyer – How to Choose?
Selecting your Virginia criminal or DUI defense lawyer should balance the lawyer’s quality and fees, suggests Fairfax criminal lawyer
Selecting your criminal or DUI defense lawyer is one of the most critical decisions you can make. As a Fairfax criminal defense lawyer and DUI attorney, I know that such a decision heavily balances the lawyer’s relevant quality for the particular case and the defendant’s finances. Wealthy people’s funds do not guarantee their choosing the right lawyer, while their wealth provides them broader options for choosing an attorney. Indigent people can request a court-appointed lawyer (whether a public defender lawyer or private practicing lawyer accepting court appointments of criminal cases), but can be precluded from being granted such an attorney in Virginia when the prosecutor informs the judge that the commonwealth is waiving jail time. Most Virginia criminal defendants fall somewhere in between those two extremes.
Should I hire a former prosecutor? That should not decide your selection.
As I have written here (The Illusion Of Needing To Hire A Former Prosecutor For Criminal Defense) and here (Pausing Before Hiring A Former Prosecutor/Former Member Of The Opposing Army), being a good prosecutor does not automatically translate into being a good criminal defense lawyer. Like an organ transplant patient — whose body may or may not reject the transplanted organ — not all former prosecutors will adjust well to transitioning to criminal defense, whether because the former prosecutor’s heart is not into defending the accused, or if the former prosecutor is not ready to fight like hell for the numerous criminal defendants who at first seem to have just about all the cards stacked against them, but for whom panning for gold can yield spectacular results for the criminal defendant. Selecting your criminal defense or DWI lawyer should take all this into consideration.
How long can I wait for selecting a Virginia criminal defense or DUI lawyer? It is ideal to take action soon.
The criminal defendant needs also to balance being thorough about selecting a lawyer, with the importance of timely obtaining a qualified criminal defense or DUI defense lawyer to deal with the opposition and any relevant procedural deadlines imposed by the governing law, including to issue subpoenas and submit proposed discovery orders. Once a prosecution is underway, a lawyer is already representing the prosecution side, which amounts to an uneven playing field until the criminal defendant hires a qualified lawyer. Criminal cases often are scheduled for quickly-approaching court dates, and too many criminal defendants suffer by waiting until the last moment to obtain a lawyer.
How much should attorney fees figure in selecting a criminal defense or DUI lawyer
Many criminal defendants selecting a lawyer naturally wish to know an attorney’s fee — or at least a ballpark or fee range — over the phone or email before committing to scheduling a meeting with the lawyer. I instead look at a scheduled meeting with a potential client as an opportunity for us to communicate in depth, for me to answer the potential client’s questions, and for me to provide a proposed mutual tailor-made action plan. Whether or not the potential client hires me, s/he finishes our meeting with a better understanding of the challenges and battle preparation involved with his or her case. My time is never wasted either, because at the very least I become a better lawyer each time I conceptualize a winning path for a criminal or DUI defendant.
What questions should I ask a potential criminal defense or DWI defense lawyer?
Following are further questions I would ask a lawyer in selecting an attorney, if I were in the shoes of the potential criminal defense or DWI client. Hopefully this list will illustrate the importance of looking beyond legal fees alone in choosing a lawyer (and if the lawyer wins, you avoid paying court fines and costs), although one cannot pay for a lawyer with cash that one cannot obtain.
Selecting a criminal defense or DUI lawyer can be as serious as choosing a doctor to perform surgery. Most people do not rank low price as the most important factor in choosing a doctor (although of course most people have health insurance to cover physicians’ bills). Should it be any different in choosing a lawyer to defend your liberty? In any event, a lawyer should welcome inquiries about the factors s/he uses in calculating the fee. If the lawyer quotes a flat fee, what time estimates and other factors did the lawyer use in calculating the fee? If an hourly rate is being quoted, to what extent will the lawyer cap the number of hours billed, or estimate the number of hours possibly needed for the work?
What are the criminal defense and DUI lawyer’s ability and dedication to pursuing your best defense?
Crucial in selecting a criminal defense and DUI lawyer are the attorney’s quality, dedication and experience to effectively pursue your best defense. What can substitute for the experience of years of battle by a lawyer in criminal court? How does such experience help a lawyer to persuade effectively; handle difficult situations with the case, the judge, prosecutors and opposing witnesses; and find ways to minimize and reverse weaknesses in the client’s case? How committed and capable is the lawyer to provide the client with first-rate service? How often, effectively, unhesitatingly and fearlessly does the lawyer take cases to trial? How effective is the lawyer at persuading and negotiating?
How much does the lawyer concentrate on and crystalize criminal defense?
In selecting a criminal defense lawyer, consider how much the lawyer concentrates on criminal defense and DUI defense, and what motivated the lawyer to do so? Is the lawyer convinced that criminal defense is an honorable way to serve clients, the public, and the Constitution? Does the lawyer still get a thrill out of each battle and each victory for justice? How well does the lawyer know the relevant law, and how well will the lawyer obtain and be conversant with the law, facts and arguments that apply to your case? Does the lawyer regularly read the relevant opinions issued by the appellate courts where the lawyer practices?
Also in selecting a criminal defense lawyer, consider what are your potential lawyer’s writing skills? Litigation persuasion is accomplished orally, in writing, and often with both approaches. How well does your lawyer do both? How many trials has the lawyer handled to completion as the lead lawyer? How well does your lawyer handle pretrial motions practice? How many appeals has your lawyer handled, to include writing legal briefs and handling the pressure of sometimes rapid-fire questioning from a team of appellate judges?
How devoted will the criminal defense or DUI lawyer be to you?
How accessible and devoted is the lawyer? Those are critical considerations for selecting a criminal defense lawyer. What efforts does the lawyer make to assure s/he is devoting sufficient time, effort and diligence in representing you? Will the lawyer stay with your case from beginning to end? Will the lawyer be fully available to communicate with you in person, by phone, and by email? Will the lawyer set the entire day aside for your bench trial date if needed, and even more time as necessary for any jury trial? How focused will the lawyer be with you in court? Will the lawyer be ready to handle all opportunities, challenges and curveballs to your advantage?
What do other people say about the criminal defense or DWI lawyer you are considering? What is your comfort level with the attorney?
What do other people say about the lawyer, including on AVVO (which ranks lawyers and includes client and peer assessments) and in Martindale-Hubbell (which has peer review lawyer rankings)? Consider the source of the comments, of course. What is your comfort and confidence level in the lawyer? What does your gut tell you? For that matter, how good are the lawyer’s instincts?
How well will the lawyer team with you?
How much does the lawyer value you, your views, and your knowledge? An attorney needs to work closely as a team with the client in fighting for justice. The lawyer’s law degree and bar license do not make the lawyer all-knowing; the client has a very important role and knowledge base in preparing and pursuing the defense.
Fairfax criminal lawyer Jonathan L. Katz pursues your best defense against felony, misdemeanor, and DUI prosecutions. Call us at 703-383-1100 to schedule a free consultation about your court-pending criminal or DWI case.