Years ago there was a famous financial planning commercial. The commercial portrayed an average looking male in his pajamas positioning a butter knife by his chest at the breakfast table while talking on the phone to someone explaining how to do an incision. For a few seconds, the screen splits to reveal the person on the other side of the phone call was a surgeon. At this point, our dumbfounded man at the breakfast table bluntly exclaims: “Shouldn’t you be doing this?” And, in doing so, the man doing the procedure noted the obvious point: we rely upon professionals to handle vital matters. In that case, it was the notion of leaving surgery to those properly trained to operate. The same notion of leaving professional jobs to professionals holds true for when your liberty is on the line. If your life or a loved one’s freedom is in peril, you need a highly trained and skilled criminal defense lawyer, not someone pretending to be one while getting instructions from another source
Amazingly, there are some people who, when faced with the threat of rotting within the bowels of jail, will choose to handle the matter themselves or seek the assistance of a friend who has a friend who practices some sort of law but knows the prosecutor. Meanwhile, others rightly believe they need professional help but take on the search as if they were shopping for a deal on paper towels at Walmart. Both of these are examples of the wrong approach to proper criminal defense. When it comes to picking your surgeon, the man packing your parachute, or the person protecting your freedom, please do not “bargain shop”. Trust me; you will pay in the end. It is far better to pay a little more money up front than to pay with your life in the end. At the end of the day, it is only money and, if you are free and working, you can easily earn the money you spent on your defense back, but if you go to jail, the few pennies you earn a day won’t earn you enough to pay back your discount lawyer.
I realize that most law-abiding citizens do not have a successful criminal defense lawyer on “speed dial”. Even though the U.S. constitution would have us believe everyone, including Lawyers are created equal Lawyers aren’t created equally. We come in all shapes and sizes. But, there is a common misconception that graduating from law school and passing the bar exam infuses any layer with some form of inner knowledge that makes them capable of handling any legal matter. This is a misnomer. Think about it for a second. If your head hurt and you had a persistent nosebleed, would you call your dentist or podiatrist? You probably would not. Instead, you’d probably call an internal medicine doctor or a neurosurgeon because those doctors are trained for that precise problem. The same thought process should be applied when choosing your attorney. You want to pick the one that is best for your individual case.
I am a criminal defense lawyer. As a New Orleans prosecutor, I have prosecuted well over a hundred cases ranging from drug possession to murder. Now, as a defense lawyer, I am proud to handle some of the most famous state and complex federal prosecutions in our area. I do not write wills. Thus, don’t call me about a pending bankruptcy. I have no idea how to handle those cases and I will do neither of us any favors if I use your case to learn. In fact, I my inexperience in bankruptcy proceedings could wind up making your matters worse.
Amazingly, some lawyers are so desperate for business that they advertise themselves as practicing every type of law imaginable. Please be wary of any attorney proclaiming that they handle “no fault divorces”, “slip and falls” and “death penalty cases.” I’ve spent many hours, indeed years, honing my craft. The person defending your life should too. Remember the old adage “jack of all trades and master of none”? You owe it to yourself to hire a professional devoted to their area of law that you need. I believe those lawyers who seemingly take all cases do so because they need the money to pay their basic bills. You will do yourself a service by staying clear of these folks. You will save yourself, time, money, and possible many nosebleeds.
One thing you must realize is that lawyers are salesmen. So, just like your tour through the used car lot, you must keep your guard up and not fall for gimmicky slogans and B.S. sales pitches. We are all, in one form or another, Willy Lowman from the Famous Play “Death of a Salesman.” That is we are all flawed, and looking to provide for our families. With that in mind, many lawyers will tell you what you want to here to earn your case and make money. I suggest you sort out the real trial lawyers from the pretenders and ask the following questions, being weary of certain responses, and being prepared with certain information.
Questions To Ask A Lawyer Before You Hire Them
1. Do You Try Cases Before Juries And, If So, How Many Have You Brought To Trial? Real trial lawyers try cases. Fake trial lawyers claim they try cases.
2. What Experience Do You Have With This Kind Of Case? Remember, all lawyers aren’t created equal. Do you really want your homicide case handled by a person specializing in traffic court? I wouldn’t want my liberty to serve as someone else’s “learning curve”!
3. What Percentage Of Your Practice Is Devoted To Criminal Defense? I’d be wary of general practitioners. I enjoy criminal defense. I know nothing about property disputes, wills, or the nuances of regulatory law. Just like you wouldn’t want me litigating your servitude rights case, you wouldn’t the town’s top divorce lawyer picking the jury for your armed robbery trial. Let’s be honest, one person cannot possibly master multiple unrelated areas of the law. There is truth in the old saying, “jack of all trade, and a master of none.”
4. What Kind Of Access Will You Have To The Lawyers? Some folks take your fee and disappear. I personally have no problem providing my cell phone number to a client. We assign a dedicated paralegal to every file who can answer basic questions about the case if necessary. We provide the client with copies of any pleadings that are filed in the case and promise to review the materials with them; even if they are incarcerated. This raises another point: we routinely visit with jailed clients and accept their collect phone calls. If your potential lawyer is not easily accessible, you may want to re-consider. But, at a bare minimum, you should know the level of access you will receive for your money.
5. Clearly Communicate Your Goals. Expectations are important. If you have a desired outcome in mind then it is imperative you communicate that to your lawyer. A disaster will occur if you desire a dismissal of charges but the lawyer is thinking “quick guilty plea.” Be clear. And, expect the lawyer to advise you whether your goal is realistic. Please, keep in mind, that some folks out there will say anything in order to get your money. If any grandiose claims are made, demand that they be placed into writing. I promise you’ll see some quick back peddling. Please note: no lawyer can guarantee outcomes.
Red Flags To Be Weary Of
If your potential lawyer engages in any of these activities, leave immediately.
1. The Guarantee: No lawyer can guarantee an outcome. Countless families have hired our firm after originally engaging an attorney who said, “pay me x, and Mr. Client will get out of jail.” If it were only that simple everyone would be a lawyer. When you hear those words, demand the promise is placed into writing along with a clause for a full refund if the promise cannot be fulfilled.
2. No Receipts or Scope letters: Be wary of any lawyer not willing to outline the precise scope of their representation and the fees involved. If you do not get a commitment on scope and fees, please do not act surprised when requests for more cash keep coming and you are left to feel that the case is not progressing as you anticipated. Also, be highly suspicious of any lawyer who will not provide you with a receipt for payment accurately reflecting the balance owed. Any lawyer refusing to do so is probably a lawyer who pockets cash “off the books.” Our firm gives receipts and reports every penny earned in fees. We don’t believe in “high interest loans from the IRS.”
3. Solicitation: It is unethical for any lawyer to directly solicit your business. Advertising is permitted but is subject to stringent regulations and scrutiny. A lawyer cannot call you or knock on your door saying ‘I know you were arrested and I can help.” If this happens, slam the door or hang up the phone. This conduct will get the lawyer disbarred. Also, think about it, if a lawyer is willing to engage in an unethical practice to get your business, what quality of representation do you think you will receive?
4. Promotes Influence: Any lawyer that heavily focuses their practice on criminal law will be familiar with the prosecutors and judges. We know them all. There is nothing special about that. Please do not be misled by “I know the Judge” or “the prosecutor and I are friends”. I do not know a judge or prosecutor willing to do anything illegal to help your case. Any suggestion to the contrary is a federal crime for bribery and public corruption. At best, knowing the prosecutor and judge will provide background information on how they handle similar cases and resolve the important legal issues. Nothing more. So, don’t be fooled by attorneys who brag about being golf buddies with the judge.