Ideally, you would rather not have to hire a federal criminal defense lawyer. But, if you have been indicted (charged with a crime) in federal court or you’re under investigation, you know you need a lawyer. You know you need to hire the right lawyer. This situation is not easy to deal with and the decision of who to hire can be extremely stressful.
Most people will only have to hire an attorney once during their lifetime. And for most, the need arises as the result of a stressful and negative event. While you may want to get this over with and simply sign someone up so they may proceed with your defense, you need to be careful. A lot of people make the mistake of hiring the first lawyer that gets on the phone or returns their call the quickest. This is probably not the best idea unless you’re convinced (after doing your homework) that this lawyer is the right one for you.
Here are some considerations that you should be working through as you make what is quite possibly one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make:
The Right Kind of Lawyer
If you were having heart palpitations, you would not seek out a dermatologist. Lawyers are no different than doctors. You wouldn’t call our office and ask us to handle an estate plan or a divorce. Don’t make the mistake of having your buddy who handles divorce or traffic tickets represent you in federal court for a Medicare fraud case.
Thankfully, most lawyers won’t accept a case that they’re not comfortable handling. However, that is not always the case. As the consumer and the person whose life is on the line, you need to be sure that the attorney you choose has experience in Federal court. Have they handled federal cases and investigations? Can they explain the Federal Sentencing Guidelines and how they apply in your case? Do you feel confident that they can give you best chance of success based on their experience and knowledge handling federal criminal cases?
What To Look For
If you’re reading this, you are going about this the right way. You are at an advantage given the amount of information available today. However, given the amount of information available today, you’re also at a disadvantage because there is a lot more to sort through.
It is best to get a complete picture of possible attorneys you would like to speak with. In order to do this, don’t just look into their education and professional background (i.e. what law school they attended or where the previously worked). This information is important, but it should not be the sole determining factor. Very good lawyers attended some less than stellar law schools, while some lawyers from the top law schools are not as good.
Be sure to consider any other information you can gather about a particular lawyer and how they’ve been able to help people who face a situation similar to yours. Are there reputable and independent ratings websites that feature the lawyer? Does the lawyer have reviews and success stories demonstrating how they’ve helped clients in the past?
While resume bullet points and lawyer-rating sites are a good starting point, you ultimately need to hire the person that makes you most comfortable for the very uncomfortable road ahead. There is simply more to it than ‘trust me, I’m the lawyer; do what I say.’
Lawyers are professional communicators and counselors. They are going to spend a lot of time discussing your case with you and also communicating with the government on your behalf. Ultimately, they will likely be presenting evidence to a jury or trying to convince a judge that you are deserving of a more lenient, or alternative, sentence.
Use your judgment. Does the lawyer communicate well? Are you able to understand what they are explaining to you?
Federal criminal cases are extremely complex. The right lawyer for your case not only has the experience in federal court but can also educate you about the process that you are embarking on. Can they explain the bond and pretrial release process and different types of bonds? Do you feel comfortable with their explanation with respect to what the government is alleging you did and how the sentencing guidelines will affect you? Have they thoroughly explained your options? Did you understand what they said?
The right lawyer should discuss all the facts at every step of your case and educate you not only on why it’s important, but how each fact may be to your benefit or detriment.
While a good lawyer will always do what is best for their client in order to try to get them the best possible outcome, the right lawyer not only fights for their client but also educates and empowers you to take ownership of your case and make the best decision for you.
Let’s be clear, a good attorney should advise their client. They should explain all of your options thoroughly and succinctly so that you understand the pros and cons of each choice. We believe the ultimate decision should be made by an informed, educated and empowered client. There is probably nothing worse when dealing with the criminal justice system than looking back and wondering why your attorney ‘made you’ or ‘recommended you’ do something.
The right attorney will have explained everything in such detail that you are comfortable and at peace with the educated decisions you made about your case and your future.
What You Want to Hear
You are an educated consumer that is faced with an extremely important and difficult decision. Be cautious of the attorney that simply tells you what you want to hear at the initial meeting or over the phone. Oftentimes that is only done to get you to part with your hard-earned money as no attorney can predict or know exactly what the outcome of a given case will be. Nor can they ethically predict or guarantee an outcome.
While you may not want to acknowledge this, it is oftentimes the right attorney that tells you what you need to hear and not necessarily what you want to hear.
Given the complexity and the specialized nature of the cases and procedures, lawyers practicing in federal court can be expensive. If you have a criminal problem in federal court, you should expect that a good lawyer will cost you.
My advice is hire the best lawyer that you can afford. This is not the time to simply act on price resistance either. Be creative and see if there’s a way for you to come up with the money in order to hire the right lawyer for your case. If you simply cannot afford the lawyer that you feel is best for you, and there are no other comparable options at a given price point that you feel comfortable with, look to the federal public defender’s office.
Federal public defenders are oftentimes some of the best lawyers in their given district and almost always a better option than the lawyer charging $5,000-$7,500 with no experience in federal court. If you don’t qualify for, or do not want a public defender, be upfront with a potential lawyer about money. Learn how they charge and be realistic about what you can afford.
Most criminal defense lawyers in federal court charge a flat fee for their work. A flat fee means that they will quote you a price upfront and that’s the only price you pay. Some lawyers that charge a flat fee will split up their fee for different stages of a proceeding and some may charge extra to take your case to trial.
Make sure that you are clear on how a lawyer will charge. When quoting fees, we first look at the unique facts and circumstances of a given case and what stage of the proceedings a given case is in. For example, if you have been recently contacted by federal law enforcement, we may charge a flat fee that only covers the investigation portion rather than quote a fee for an entire case without knowing what charges may result and what defense strategy will be required.
We try to be fair when quoting fees and take into account how much time will be required given the nature and circumstances of your case.
Trust Your Gut
Lastly, you have to trust your instincts. You’re an educated consumer and this is no different than any other important purchase you’ve previously made. If you simply don’t feel comfortable, don’t completely trust someone, or feel as though you may be neglected, don’t hire that person.
There is a lot at stake and you will be spending a lot of time with your lawyer. If you have a bad feeling about a given lawyer, then that person is not the right lawyer for you. Your freedom, your future and your family’s future is at stake; make sure you feel like you’re in the right place.