After an arrest, it’s easy to feel panicked and lost, wondering what to do first. Finding a good lawyer should be at the top of your list.
Your case needs a legal advocate as soon as it starts moving through the criminal justice system, so you should take immediate steps to find the best legal representation possible.
Here are the priorities we’ve built our practice upon, and what we recommend looking for in a criminal attorney:
An active criminal practice
Don’t hire your Aunt Nancy just because she has a bar card and you trust her. If Aunt Nancy is a real estate or contracts attorney, by all means, call her. But ask her to recommend a criminal defense attorney. The criminal justice community in a particular county is usually very small.
Defense attorneys who are in and out of the courthouse on a daily basis know the systems, personalities, and options within that county.
Lots of trial and litigation experience
When you hire an attorney, you have no idea whether your case will go to trial or be settled outside the courtroom. Your attorney needs to be prepared for both. The final fight is always in the courtroom.
Don’t settle for an attorney whose track record indicates a reluctance to go to trial. You want someone who has tried lots of cases before a jury.
A seasoned trial attorney will leverage this experience in conversations with prosecutors, courtroom appearances, and rapport with a judge, whether your case goes to trial or not. And if your case does go to trial, you’ll need expert advice on what to expect from a jury and how to present yourself humbly and confidently.
A willingness to answer all of your questions to your satisfaction
Most attorneys will give you a free consultation. At that time, you should address all of your immediate concerns. You also should ask:
- Who is the attorney that will handle my case? How many years of criminal experience does that person have? How many jury cases has the attorney tried?
- Where is our case right now in the criminal justice process?
- What can I do to help my case?
- What resources can you recommend to address the challenges that led to arrest, such as addiction, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), personality disorders, or anger issues?
The attorney also should be able to talk knowledgeably about procedure, the level of offense, punishment ranges, and next steps.
Be wary of attorneys that seem pushy or evasive, cost significantly less than competitors, or make promises without reviewing all the evidence and facts of your case.
While empty promises may feel comforting at the time, they can leave you in worse circumstances if they fall apart later.
Remember to take care of yourself
After you hire an attorney, prepare for a prolonged process and make sure you take care of yourself during this stressful time. Prioritize sleep, exercise, and nutrition. Tap into your faith community, and find support networks specific to your needs.
Connect with friends and family you can trust not to judge, but to offer you genuine support.
The criminal justice process is a marathon, not a sprint. Not only will healthier choices help you deal with immediate stress, but they’ll demonstrate to a judge or jury a commitment to change.