How To Hire a Criminal Defense Lawyer

Hiring a criminal defense lawyer can be one of the most important decisions of your life. Here is practical advice on finding a quality criminal defense lawyer, even in an emergency.

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The right attorney can make all the difference.

Hiring the right criminal defense attorney may be the most critical thing you do. A criminal conviction can result in jail or prison, probation, damaged reputation, financial ruin, loss of custody, termination of employment, revocation of a professional license, ineligibility for public benefits, difficulty obtaining loans, termination of driving privileges, and more. Most people who find themselves either charged with or suspected of a criminal offense have never had to hire a criminal defense lawyer or had a lawyer who did a horrible job. They have no idea how to hire a good criminal defense lawyer and need guidance.

So what do you do? What is the best way to hire a criminal defense lawyer? Follow the following steps, and you give yourself the best chance of obtaining a lawyer who will faithfully and sincerely fight for you like they would their own family member.

Criminal Defense Specialist

Get a Michigan criminal defense attorney, not just any attorney you or a friend knows or recommends. Criminal defense attorneys specializing in criminal defense know the judges and prosecutors involved, get concessions that other attorneys don’t know to pursue, and have probably handled cases similar to yours. An experienced attorney can better advise you of your options. Check out their website, and if they list many areas of practice, they don’t specialize in criminal defense. Your general practice doctor would refer you to a heart specialist if you had a heart problem. Similarly, a lawyer who does criminal defense and handles other areas of the law, such as divorce, immigration, business law, etc., cannot do as well as a criminal defense specialist.

Benefits to a Law Firm

Get a criminal defense attorney who has the resources to handle your case. Resources include experts, investigators, assistants, other lawyers (associates and partners), time, and experience. Most criminal defense attorneys are solo practitioners and do not work with other lawyers. They do not have experts and investigators on retainer who they work with and consult regularly. Hiring a criminal defense law firm has tremendous advantages over hiring a lawyer who works independently. The fact is that no one knows everything or can think of every angle in a case. The advantage of having a team of lawyers working with you is invaluable.

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Retained or Court-Appointed

Should you hire a criminal defense attorney or a court-appointed attorney? Court-appointed attorneys are assigned to people who cannot afford privately hired or retained attorneys. However, according to the Justice Policy Institute’s research, public defenders have very little time and resources to work on their cases, which results in inferior outcomes. The court appointment system is highly deficient in Michigan, with many court-appointed lawyers being so overloaded by cases that, despite their best efforts, they cannot provide effective assistance of counsel. Appointed criminal lawyers may be very passionate and have the best intentions but may be overwhelmed by the sheer number of cases or not have the experience or reputation to develop a retained practice. If you have the resources, you should hire a criminal defense lawyer who has your best interest at heart and will fight to protect and defend you.

There is No Substitute for Experience

Be careful of a referral to “my cousin’s best friend’s cousin” as your defense attorney. Ask friends if they know (or have experience with) a criminal defense attorney. If you face felony or misdemeanor charges, it is not the time to hire a cousin who once won a speeding ticket case for your uncle or a friend of the family who handled an OWI case for your sister at a discount. If you do not want a criminal record, you need someone who knows exactly what they are doing and can protect you. It takes decades of experience and thousands of cases for an attorney to attain the expertise necessary to assure someone they get the best possible legal representation.

Do the “Google” test when hiring a criminal defense lawyer.

Check out a lawyer’s reputation by searching for them on the internet. Lawyer rating services should not be the sole factor in hiring a lawyer. An attorney with a Martindale-Hubbell “AV” rating is considered at the pinnacle of ability, skill, and ethics. Avvo, probably the largest attorney rating organization in the United States, has a 0 to 10 rating system, with 10 (superb) being the highest possible rating. Finally, Thompson Reuters will award a select few attorneys with a rating of “Superlawyer.” Some websites have client reviews, and they can be very informative. Hiring a criminal defense lawyer without taking a moment to do quick internet research might be your biggest mistake.

Do not be fooled by advertising slogans.

Slogans such as “former prosecuting attorney” or “aggressive trial lawyer” mean nothing. You must meet the lawyer and decide if you have confidence in their skills and feel comfortable with their analysis of your case. The best Michigan criminal defense lawyers get the best deals and results based on their talent, dedication, and reputation, not their prior government positions. Many former prosecutors work as defense lawyers because they could not keep their employment with the government for one reason or another and have no other alternative.

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Don’t be sold out – Hire a criminal defense lawyer who doesn’t farm out your case.

If you hire a criminal defense attorney, ensure you will not be farmed out to a rookie associate or another lawyer based on a referral fee arrangement. If you hire a law firm, the firm’s partners and associates should directly handle your case. Don’t be a victim of the bait and switch.

The best lawyer who always wins – Claims criminal defense lawyers should not make

Remember, there is no official list of the best lawyers. There is no official “win/loss” rate, and no lawyer in history “wins every case.” What is a win? A win to one client may be a favorable plea bargain or a lenient sentence, and a win to another client may be an acquittal at trial or a dismissal of charges. Lawyers who advertise winning percentages or success ratios skew the figures and ignore essential factors.

Look out for lawyers who quote “cookie-cutter fees” or fees without learning thoroughly about your case. Some criminal defense attorneys run their practices like a restaurant. They pre-determine legal fees for different types of cases. One-size-fits-all legal fees signify that a lawyer works in volume rather than quality. Take an OWI or a domestic violence case, for example. Person A is charged and wants to resolve his case with a plea, and Person B wants a trial. A lawyer who charges everyone the same fee will likely manipulate Person B into a plea or provide substandard, rushed trial work. Every case is different, and a great criminal lawyer will take the time to meet with a client in person to determine what resources will be necessary to give them the best possible defense. The fee should be determined based on the work and time required to fight your case. Although the legal fees must be reasonable and affordable, a good criminal defense attorney will charge a fee that is commensurate with their level of representation. You know what they say, “You get what you pay for.”

The X Factor

Some lawyers have “it,” and some don’t, which is usually apparent at an in-person meeting. When you look into an attorney’s eyes and say they will fight for you, you can tell whether it is a sales job or genuine. When hiring an attorney based on a phone call, take the time to talk with an attorney to get a good feel for their sincerity. If you feel confident that an attorney is a great criminal defense lawyer and will provide the best possible legal representation, you have likely found the right person. Don’t settle for someone just because you’re panicking and they are quickly available; your life is too important to make a regrettable decision. Make sure you fully consult with an attorney before making a decision, and if you are not confident, get a second (or third) opinion.

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Free Consultation and Confidential Case Evaluation

If you or a loved one is a suspect or charged with a felony or a misdemeanor offense in Michigan, please do not hesitate to call us for a free consultation and confidential case evaluation. We know this can be a difficult time, and we can be by your side to help you every step of the way. Our firm has decades of experience exclusively handling criminal defense matters, and we would like an opportunity to show you how we can help. 

Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete an online Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.

We will find a way to help you and, most importantly,
we are not afraid to win!

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Regarding Hiring a Criminal Defense Lawyer

How do I know if a criminal defense attorney is qualified? Check their educational background, years of practice, and whether they specialize in criminal defense. Membership in criminal defense organizations and bar association ratings can also be indicators. Additionally, inquire about their track record with cases similar to yours.

What should I expect to pay for a criminal defense attorney? Costs can vary widely based on the attorney’s experience, the complexity of the case, the lawyer’s success rate, and their reputation. Some attorneys may charge a flat fee, while others bill by the hour. It’s essential to discuss and understand all fees upfront, ideally documented in a written agreement.

What is the difference between a public defender and a private defense attorney? A public defender is a court-appointed attorney for individuals who cannot afford private counsel. Most are competent but often overloaded with cases and lack resources such as investigators, experts, paralegals, IT professionals, etc. A private defense attorney is hired and paid for by the client or their family, typically has more resources, and may provide more personalized attention.

How can I ensure effective communication with my attorney? Establish communication expectations upfront. Ask about their preferred method of communication, response time expectations, and frequency of updates. A good attorney will prioritize keeping you informed and involved in your defense strategy.

How do I check the reputation or disciplinary actions against a defense attorney? Most states have a bar association website where you can verify an attorney’s license status and see any disciplinary actions. Online reviews and testimonials, while subjective, can also offer insights into an attorney’s reputation and client satisfaction.