Facing criminal charges can be a daunting and stressful experience. Hiring the right criminal lawyer can make all the difference in the outcome of your case. But if you have never been involved in the criminal justice system before, you might not know what to expect when meeting with a criminal lawyer for the first time. Here are five tips to help you prepare for your initial meeting with a criminal lawyer:
Do your homework
Before you ever step foot in the lawyer’s office, look online for information about them. Check out their website’s bio page. Look at their reviews on Google and directories like avvo.com, SuperLawyers, and the Better Business Bureau. See what past clients have said about them. Check out any awards that they’ve won, or big cases they’ve handled that have been covered by the media.
Their social media can also offer insight into their judgement. Are they posting pictures of themselves exercising poor judgement or revealing client information? Do they seem friendly and approachable, appropriate, intelligent, compassionate? You can learn a lot about a person from their TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, etc.
Bring all relevant documents
It’s helpful to bring all relevant documents to your initial meeting with a criminal lawyer. You likely won’t have a copy of the police report. But if you do, bring it. This could also include court documents like reset forms, bond conditions, or correspondence from the investigator or prosecution (particularly in federal cases). And it doesn’t have to be just documents. You might have cell phone videos, emails, text messages, social media screenshots. Bring anything that you substantiates your side of the story and might help in your defense. Providing your lawyer with as much information as possible about your case will help them understand the situation and provide you with an accurate assessment of your legal options.
Be honest and upfront
It’s crucial to be honest and upfront with your criminal lawyer about the charges you are facing. This includes sharing any information that may be damaging to your case. Your lawyer is there to help you, and they need to know everything to build a strong defense. Remember that anything you tell your lawyer is confidential, so you can be candid about the situation.
It’s important to note that the attorney-client privilege applies to your initial consultation with a criminal lawyer, even if you haven’t yet entered into a contract for legal services. This means that anything you discuss with your lawyer during the consultation is confidential and protected by law. The attorney-client privilege ensures that you can be open and honest with your lawyer without fear of legal consequences. Your lawyer has a duty to maintain the confidentiality of the information you share with them, even if you don’t end up hiring them to represent you. This protection allows you to provide your lawyer with all the information they need to provide the best possible representation.
While the attorney-client privilege protects your conversations with your lawyer, some criminal defense attorneys prefer that you don’t share details of the alleged offense in the first meeting. They say that not knowing what “really happened” frees them up to argue only from the information provided by the prosecution. They say this because lawyers have a duty of honesty to the tribunal. In other words, lawyers aren’t allowed to knowingly lie in court. So they’d rather, sort of, unknowingly lie.
I, and others like me, on the other hand, take a different approach. We prefer to know all the details from your perspective from the very beginning. This is because knowing the full story helps me advise you on the best legal strategy and whether or not to testify. It can also provide critical leads for our investigator to follow in defending you. By providing your lawyer with all the relevant information, they can build a strong defense and provide you with the best possible representation. If you’re unsure whether or not to share certain details, you can always discuss it with your lawyer and make a decision together. Remember, the more information you provide to your lawyer, the better equipped they will be to provide you with effective legal counsel.
Your initial meeting with a criminal lawyer is an opportunity to ask questions and understand the legal process better. Make a list of questions beforehand, so you don’t forget anything. It’s okay to bring a friend or family member along to help you remember to ask your questions, take notes, and help you remember what was said in the meeting. Just bear in mind that if they’re present while you’re discussing what happened, they become a witness and could be called to testify about what you say. The attorney-client privilege no longer covers that meeting. Whenever a potential client brings another person into a meeting with me, I always explain this privilege issue and ask them to either waive the privilege as to that person, or ask the person to step outside. There is a middle ground too. Most often, my clients choose to allow their friend or family member to remain in the meeting while we discuss the client’s personal history. They leave when we discuss sensitive information like what happened in the case or admissions of illegal activity like drug use for example. Then when we start to discuss timelines, legal issues, and how we might help you with your case, the friend returns to ask questions, take notes, and help the client remember what was said.
What kind of questions should you ask a lawyer? It’s a good idea to ask about their experience with your kind of case, your judge, your prosecutor, your jurisdiction. Ask them what strategies have worked in similar circumstances before. About the potential outcomes, and how to achieve the best outcome.
One of the things that will likely be most on your mind is money. How much will this cost. Get the lawyer to estimate cost of entire representation. Most criminal defense lawyers charge flat fees for representation. That means that you pay one amount no matter how much work the lawyer does. The thinking goes that gunslingers don’t charge by the bullet. You want your lawyer do what’s best for you, not run up the bill by doing work that doesn’t matter for your case. Flat fees give you predictability and ensure that your lawyer doesn’t reset your case needlessly just to collect more money from you.
That being said, some lawyers, myself included, don’t include the fee for trial up front. That’s because most cases don’t go to trial. And personally, I don’t want to charge every client for a trial that most likely won’t happen. Or on the other side of the same token, I don’t want to be stuck doing thousands of dollars of work without compensation.
Still, be sure that in addition to discussing a potential trial fee, you also discuss ancillary fees. This could include fees for experts or investigators. Printing and binding. Travel. Transcripts. As the old saying goes, “who wishes to fight must first count the cost.”
Your lawyer should be happy to answer your questions and provide you with information to help you make an informed decision.
Trust your gut
Ultimately, choosing a criminal lawyer can be a life-changing decision. It’s really important to find someone you feel comfortable with. Your lawyer should be someone you trust and can communicate with openly. Pay attention to how they interact with you during the initial meeting. If you feel like they’re not the right fit for you, don’t be afraid to look elsewhere.
In conclusion, meeting with a criminal lawyer for the first time can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. By preparing ahead of time, being honest and upfront, asking questions, and trusting your gut, you can ensure that you find the right lawyer to represent you in your case. Remember, the right criminal lawyer can make all the difference in the outcome of your case.