Choosing The Right Attorney
It’s easier than you think!
Do you need a defense attorney?
The safest choice is to always hire an attorney if charged with a criminal offense– no matter how minor– to seek legal advice at the very least. You may decide not to hire an attorney to represent you in court, but a consultation is usually free of charge and can give you some insight on the charges you are facing. Most lawyers will inform you about the potential defense option, plea bargains or programs potentially available and actions to take if convicted. Please keep in mind that this consultation may not seem like a sales pitch, but ultimately it is, so don’t make a hasty decision.
- An attorney is highly recommended if the criminal charges are serious, or the criminal history is significant.
- A consultation for lesser charges is recommended if it becomes apparent that you will go to trial.
- Educate yourself on the severity of the charges. https://www.cga.ct.gov/current/pub/chap_952.htm
- Felonies are the most serious and carry the heaviest of consequence, often requiring a cash or surety bond to be posted. Examples of crimes that are felonies include (but are not limited to) murder, armed robbery, and sexual assaults.
- Misdemeanors are less serious and usually no surety bond is required for first time offenders. Examples of misdemeanors are small larcenies, breach of peace, disorderly conduct, etc.
- Infractions are the least serious, and include cell phone use while driving, speeding, and other traffic violations.
Know what a criminal defense attorney does.
Criminal lawyers (attorneys) represent defendants charged criminally by the State of Connecticut, as opposed to civil issues like divorces and lawsuits. The best attorneys specialize in either criminal or civil law. However, that doesn’t mean that they cannot do both; many do, and do it well. Do some research and see what type of work they really do and their results. You can do this by first looking up their juris number at https://www.jud.ct.gov/attorneyfirminquiry/AttorneyFirmInquiry.aspx, and second, looking up their criminal case list here: https://www.jud2.ct.gov/crdockets/attyFirmJurisSearch.aspx.
A criminal defense attorney will:
- Assist with all case-relevant legal issues
- File various motions that will be favorable to the final disposition of your case
- If necessary, repare and represent you in a trial with the goal of obtaining the best possible outcome. Very few cases go to trial, but that is a topic for a different discussion.
What type of defense attorney do you need?
If you are being charged by the State of Connecticut, you will want an attorney that specializes in our state law. You may even want an attorney that specializes in the type of crime you are being charged with. Some attorneys have much more trial experience than others, which is also something to take into consideration; many will lack the experience if your case goes to trial.
What about a public defender?
Technically, a public defender and a private attorney have the same capabilities. Public defenders are for those who cannot afford an attorney, but are often appointed for arraignment purposes only if you do not have private counsel arranged for already. To see if you qualify for a public defender, have a look at the Income Eligibility Guideline here: http://www.ct.gov/ocpd/cwp/view.asp?a=4089&q=593454#Felony. Unfortunately, while many of the public defenders are excellent attorneys they often have limited resources and an overload of clients to represent.
- If you have little money and the case is not serious, consult a public defender. At the very least, you can obtain an analysis of your case. If you want them to represent you, an application and approval is required.
- If you are using a public defender for arraignment, be sure to ask them what is needed to post bail and give them the contact information of family and friends that can help you. You can also ask them to provide that information to a bondsman.
What qualities should I look for in an attorney?
An attorney’s ability to communicate is extremely important, for that is how they will argue your case. A strong track record is certainly a plus, especially in the same type of crime you have been charged with.
- Ask friends, family members, and your bondsman for recommendations.
- Check their juris number and see if there are any grievances.
- Ask the attorney about their past successes and examples.
However, do not take an attorney recommendation from just anyone.
More serious crimes and/or an extensive criminal history require the most experienced attorney you can find. You can find attorneys online, but that just shows that they are good at marketing. Referrals along with doing your own homework is the best method of finding an attorney. A good referral may come from your bondsman, since they see the outcome of an attorney’s work every day; attorneys can also refer other attorneys who may specialize in the crime(s) you’re being charged with. The bar website is a good source of information: https://members.ctbar.org/search/custom.asp?id=2968
Be cautious. We cannot stress this enough.
Don’t be fooled by generic statements of success, flashy offices, or clever marketing schemes. Any promise of results before seeing the totality of the evidence is also a red flag. Remember, attorneys are SELLING their services.
- Review the agreement they will expect you to sign.
- Be careful of those that want a large upfront retainer.
The cost to hire an attorney can be enormous.
Most of the time, the complecity of the case is what determines an attorney’s cost. An up front payment called a retainer is usually requested by the attorney, and they will bill for additional costs, hours, and expenses as the case progresses. This can add up very fast.
- Many Connecticut attorneys charge hourly rates which can be as much as $500 per hour, but can get out of hand fast. Keep careful logs of the hours.
- Flat fees may be offered for simple cases, but most likely not for more complex cases.
- A misdemeanor case could easily be $2500, and felonies start around $5000 for more desirable attorneys. A few of our clients at BailCo have found some very skilled attorneys who will work for less.
Set up a meeting with a few different attorneys.
Lawyers call this a consultation. We recommend a face-to-face meeting because it gives you a better idea of their skill, communication, organization, and office; this will allow you to gauge whether or not you feel comfortable with your future in their hands. Schedule a few interviews. Remember, you are being sold on a service, so ask the hard questions.
- Do not feel obligated to hire an attorney you are uncomfortable with just because you had a consultation. It’s no different than deciding on one car versus another.
- Present yourself well, as if you were going to a job interview. You want the attorney to see you at your best as well. You both must want to work together.
- Meet with at least 3 attorneys, but not much more than that; it will become time-consuming and redundant.
Like all effective meetings, you should be prepared.
Have all the available pertinent information regarding your case with you. This will ensure an accurate assessment of your criminal matter and save time.
- Inquire about previous experience in similar cases, costs, and billing. Be cautious of general statements and dodged questions.
- What strategy would they use to address your case? Step by step…
- Are there other avenues to consider?
- Ask: Why should I hire you for this case?
- How busy are they?
- Will they or a junior counsel be working on the case? Which leads to…
Who else in their office will be working on your case?
The staff is a crucial part of the attorney’s capabilities. A small staff or no staff may mean they will have a hard time doing all the work required in a complicated case. Questions to ask include:
- Who will be assisting, and what are their qualifications/rates?
- How much work will the attorney do?
- Who will take over the attorney’s duties if they are unable to perform them for whatever reason?
Do not dance around the facts of the case– discuss them.
Are they familiar with the specific type of case you have? If so, what tactics will they use and why? How will they communicate with you– email, text, letter? What additional experts will they expect to need– bondsmen, expert witnesses, a private investigator? Will they suggest rehab?
- You may have documents like a search warrant, appearance bond, or a letter from the police department. Do not leave the original version with your attorney; a copy is fine.
- An attorney should be able to give you a realistic quote by the end of the consultation.