I often get asked by friends in other places how they would go about hiring a criminal defense attorney when they do not know anyone in the area. First, if you know of any, you should ask attorneys you know about who the best criminal defense experts in that area are. Maybe they will be able to find out a good referral or they may have good pointers about the attorneys in town based on experience with those attorneys.
You should conduct an investigation online of those attorneys including:
- looking at their web sites
- any articles available on the internet
- their disciplinary record at the Oregon State Bar’s website
- endorsements from clients in the past
Look for experience serving on boards, educational committees and other signs that a person is respected in the community. Once you have done that work, you should have a few candidates and should schedule consultations with the candidate or candidates you have.
Come to the consultation prepared in a number of ways in order to get the most out of it. Bring all the documents you have about your case with you. Prepare some questions that you have been wanting to ask. If there is something that you need to ask to be able to relax and listen to the rest of the conversation, go ahead and ask it. You will want to ask the attorneys you are consulting with about their experience. You want to ask them questions about what you are charged with, what possible positive outcomes are. What possible negative outcomes are.
You should ask about whether the attorney you are talking with has trial experience, how recent that experience is and whether they have experience with cases like yours. Ask about whether they have been in a number of similar situations. Do not go with an attorney who just scares you or overpromises. Ask about the worst result that attorney has ever had with a case like yours. And the best. And look for someone you can trust, who reveals the best and worst of things and seems to really understand the law.
Remember that part of hiring a good attorney is hiring a competent tactician. Someone who is calculating and remembers the nuances of the law in ways that will help them get you the best result. Asking probing questions about the law gets you information about whether your attorney has this skill.
The other big part of being a good attorney is being able to tell a story well and in a compelling manner. Attorneys are also ultimately story tellers, advocates who tell our stories in court in order to make our cases. So, it is important to make sure the attorney you are talking to is someone you would want to hear make a closing or opening argument. Hearing about results and getting context in how an attorney conveys details should let you know whether your attorney is a good and compelling presenter.
Having asked around, looked online, seen reviews, and met with an attorney with a critical eye towards the above now it is important to ask for a prospective fee agreement. Ask for a few days to make a decision if there is time before the court process will begin. If not, ask for a few hours. Take the agreement and review it closely. Review your memory of the consultation. If you deeply trust the person you have met with to represent you, they have answered all of your questions and you feel comfortable with the fee agreement, execute it and you will have likely made a great decision in hiring the best possible attorney for your case. The best attorney will get the best result.