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The Qualities To Look For When Retaining An Attorney To Defend A Criminal Case

Interviewer: What are some of the qualities that people should be looking for in an attorney? At the same time what are some red flags as well?

Matthew Murillo: When looking to hire someone, the most important thing that you can do is talk to that person. If you find an attorney and you’re doing your research online, and you find someone you want to hire, talk to them.  Get a feel for how they interact with you, and don’t discount your gut feeling.  That’s extremely important, especially with criminal cases. A lot of times, your livelihood, your job and your life are on your mind. So you want to have someone who you can trust. You should look at what organizations they belong to, organizations that are dedicated to furthering the plight of criminal defense lawyers, and the dedication to defending people that are accused to different crimes.

It is Important to Check Whether the Attorney is Affiliated with Any Major Organizations

Are they members of  things like the National College for DUI Defense, Inc. or the California DUI Lawyers Association, if you are looking for a DUI attorney.  If you are looking for criminal defense attorney for another kind of criminal case, are they also members of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers or the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, the California Public Defenders Association, or other associations like the National Trial Lawyers Association. Check if that attorney has been published, what kind of expertise do they have?  Not only in the area of law of criminal defense but in handling your type of case, specifically. How are they seen within the local community, meaning what do other lawyers think of them?

It is Also Important to Know How Other Attorneys Rate the Lawyer You’ve Retained

Is the attorney you are thinking of hiring someone that other lawyers would go to if they were in trouble? There are several organizations too like the National Trial Lawyers Association, who also rate attorneys.  They have a top 100 list, and a top 40 under 40 lists for different states, and different areas of law. Is the attorney on any lists like that? Do they have any additional certifications in the context of DUI’s? Are they certified to administer standardized failed sobriety tests, which is a training that officers go through? Things like that show that the attorney knows what to look for and how to question an officer when they are cross examining officers, either at the DMV hearing, or in court to see where the holes are in the case.

It is Imperative to Check Out the Attorney’s Reviews on Websites like AVVO.com

Finally you should always check out reviews, either on the attorney’s website or on sites like Avvo.com. Do they consistently get good reviews from past clients? Are there any negative reviews? if so, what do they say? Obviously those have nothing to do with your case so you should take it with a grain of salt, but they may indicate a continued failure to communicate, or some reason why multiple clients seem to be unhappy, or why they seem to be happy with a certain attorney.Some sites likeAvvo.com have a rating system available on their system. I think AVVO uses a scale from 1 to 10.  So how does your attorney rank on that?

It is Important to Stay Away From an Attorney that Guarantees a Particular Result

As far as warning signs, I would say I probably have a“Top 3”. First, I always recommend, stay away from someone who promises a certain result. There are multiple sides to a story, multiple reasons why a case can be dismissed or reduced. It is impossible to commit to any kind of result because of the nature of the criminal court process.A lot of times a criminal case can hinge on who the District Attorney, as well as who the judge is going to be. Those are two things that you can’t really determine ahead of time.  Cases will turn on the evidence that’s obtained during an investigation – the officer’s investigation as well the attorney’s investigation.  Things like that you can’t really predict.

It is Also Important to Be Wary of Attorneys that are Cheaper than Average Lawyers

The second red flag is to be wary of a “low cost” lawyer.  If you think logically, and you speak to several attorneys, and they all fall around the same price range except for one who is substantially lower, do you really think you’re going to get that low cost attorney to do the same kind of work the others would do? They may not have the same kind experience; they may be looking for the experience. You need to look at the overall value of what you’re paying for, not the price. Attorneys charge on a variety of factors, and part of that is based on their experience with a certain scenario, and their caseload.

It is Also Unwise to Assume that an Expensive Lawyer is the Best One Available

My office limits our caseloads so we aren’t necessarily going to be working on case quantity.  We are working on quality representation instead. Attorney fees will be based on number of other factors as well.  Things like what else is included in that fee, like any of the investigative costs.  Ultimately you have to use your judgment on this one, don’t assume that the most expensive attorney is also going to be the best one. You need to look at what they intend to do, that you’re going to be paying for, and what it covers. The final warning in my top 3 would be staying away from “the salesman”. There are attorneys that I have heard of, who would pressure you into signing a contract immediately.  They are probably not the ones that have your best interest in mind.  I hear stories that people tell me, of attorneys telling people that the only way to avoid jail time is by hiring them.

It is Important to Have a Realistic View Towards the Case and the Potential Consequences Involved

No attorney can guarantee a specific outcome right off the bat. If you talk to somebody and they are trying to give you that hard sale, about how you’re going to do jail time unless you hire them, it’s probably not in your best interest to hire them.  You have to be careful of that too, if you’re getting a hard sale, you have to be realistic, and have a realistic view of your case and the potential consequences, so that you don’t fall for the false promises.  As far as the pressure goes, would you want to put your life in someone’s hands, who has no problem pressuring you into signing an agreement for them to represent you? Probably not.

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