When you are being investigated for or charged with a crime, choosing the right lawyer to represent you may be the most important decision you ever make. No attorney is the right choice for every case. Choose an attorney with expertise. I will not represent you to complete a business transaction. Similarly, you should not expect your business attorney to represent you in a criminal case – even if the charges relate to your business.
I often hear from prospective clients, “This case relates to a real estate transaction, so I need a real estate lawyer.” This is not correct. What you need if you are charged with a crime is an attorney with expertise in criminal defense. Only a criminal defense lawyer will be familiar with the Rules of Criminal Procedure, will have expertise in the possible constitutional violations that the authorities may have committed in questioning you or searching your premises, and will be able to evaluate the strength of the criminal case in order to advise you. It may be, for example, that your case depends more on expertise relating to the Fifth Amendment than on any aspect of real estate law. If your criminal defense attorney needs additional information about real estate law or some other area specific to your case, he or she can arrange to consult with an attorney in that field. But only a criminal defense attorney will have the expertise to properly handle a criminal case.
If the charges are in federal court, be sure the attorney you are considering has extensive experience in federal court. Many criminal defense attorneys primarily handle cases in state courts. They may not be the best choice for a case in federal court, where the cases are often more complicated, the stakes are often higher, and the laws and procedures are different than in state court. This would be akin to hiring a general surgeon to do your brain surgery. Similarly, be wary of an attorney who handles business matters, personal injury, criminal defense, and divorce. You need a specialist. I practice almost exclusively in federal court, and I have done so for the last 25 years. Few attorneys have as much experience as I do in federal criminal cases.
Regardless of whether you choose to consider me, I encourage you to speak to several different lawyers before deciding who to retain. Get several points of view about your situation. It is important that you have complete confidence in your attorney. When speaking to attorneys, however, be careful not to be most impressed by lawyers who simply tell you what you want to hear. Any lawyer who tells you they can win your case is not to be trusted. That does not mean you are going to lose. It means that at the time of the first consultation, there is not enough information available to make a complete assessment. Grandiose statements are more about salesmanship—convincing you to hire that lawyer—than about any sort of accurate evaluation of your case.
When speaking to lawyers, here are some questions you may want to ask:
- How long have you been practicing law?
- What types of cases do you handle?
- What percentage of your practice is criminal defense?
- What percentage of your practice is federal criminal defense?
- How many criminal cases have you tried in federal court?
- Do you have enough time to handle my case?
- Will you personally handle my case, including all pretrial hearings?
- How will you communicate with me about the status of my case?
- If I leave you a message, how long typically will it take you to get back to me?
- What is the next step in my case?
- Describe the general judicial process that will be followed in my case.
I do not charge for an initial consultation. I am happy to meet with you to discuss your case and to answer your questions. You are under no obligation to hire me. I encourage you to take the time you need to choose the attorney you are most comfortable with and who you feel will do the best job on your case.
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