Seven Questions You Must Ask Before Hiring a Lawyer
So what should you look for when hiring an attorney?
Just like selecting the right doctor for a serious medical procedure, you don’t want to hire just anyone to handle your case. You deserve a dedicated professional, an experienced lawyer who is a SPECIALIST in the area of law that you need help with AND has courtroom experience.
If the attorney you’re talking with waffles even the slightest bit when answering these questions, can’t answer the questions, or tries to tell you that the questions aren’t important, you should say, “Thanks for your time,” and hang up the phone or
walk out of their office. Your case is too serious to waste time talking with someone who won’t be completely honest and straightforward with you.
Your case is serious, and you don’t want a cheerleader for a lawyer, someone who tells you that everything is “a bed of roses” during the initial interview, and then changes their story completely when your case goes to court and tells you to plead “guilty” because they ignored the bad facts and issues in your case, or (even worse), failed to recognize the negative issues in the first place.
You deserve a lawyer who will be straight forward and honest with you, and who will tell you THE TRUTH about your case.
Your lawyer should NOT tell you what you want to hear.
Your lawyer should tell you how things really are.
Question1 How many years have you been practising law?
The answer to this question will give you a good idea about the lawyers experience, and will help you get a feeling whether the attorney you’re talking to has the skills to
competently handle your case.
THE TRUTH is that length of time in practice may not mean as much as some lawyers think it does. There are some wonderful attorneys who have been practicing for only 5 or 10 years,
and there are some awful attorneys with 25 years under their belts.
The value of a lawyers length of practice depends on a number of factors, so ask follow up questions before hiring the attorney, such as, “How long have you been practicing criminal law?”
If your barrister or solicitor has done employment law for 40 years, but just started doing criminal defense last week because he’s having trouble making the rent, those 40 years of experience won’t
help you very much in a drink driving case.
If you want the best outcome then avoid hiring a barrister or solicitor who is “jack of all trades” and master of none.
If you needed to have a heart operation, would you want a general practitioner, or a cardiac surgeon performing the operation?
Even though both of them went to the same school and received much of the same medical training, there’s a world of difference between the doctor who does “a little bit of everything”
and the specialist heart surgeon.
The same is true with barristers & solicitors .
But it DOES mean that a specialist criminal and traffic lawyer probably knows more about the intricacies of driving defense and won’t overlook the technical defenses that can often mean
the difference between getting your license back or catching the bus to go to work for an entire year.
THE TRUTH is that criminal defense law is too complex to just “dabble” in. At a bare minimum, your lawyer should be familiar with the problems in the breath testing equipment, the
technical defenses that win drink driving hearings.
Beware if you see an lawyer advertising themsleves as a specialist in immigration law, employment law, tax law, family law, litigation, commercial law, trusts, wills estates and
criminal law and traffic law.
Question 2 Who will actually be handling my case ?
This may be THE MOST IMPORTANT question that you MUST ask.
It’s essential that you find out if the barrister or solicitor who you’re speaking with will actually be the attorney who works on your case and the barrister or solicitor who represents you in court, or if
they’re going to send somebody else to cover court hearings and Court motions.
Believe it or not, but there are some lawyers who are perfectly happy to take your money, charging you legal fees at a senior rate and then hand off your case to an
inexperienced junior lawyer, often straight out of law school and barely have any involvement with your case ever again.
You deserve to know: “Will the lawyer I’m talking with be the barrister or solicitor who drives to every court hearing, deals with the prosecutor, argues the motions, and stands next to me
the entire time I’m in court, or will he ask another attorney to handle most of the work and just hope that my case pleas out?”
Demand to know who will really be your lawyer. If they tell you that the firm uses a “team” approach, they’re telling you that the person you’re speaking with today may not
be the person who’s standing next to you in court during critical hearings or during trial. Not all team members are equal. For example, Zin Zan Brooke and Jud Buechler were
both members of the All Blacks team, does that mean they’re both equal?
Insist on dealing directly with the barrister or solicitor handling your case.
If the attorney tries to pawn off your case on some junior barrister or solicitor or asks the duty solicitor to handle the case while he sits back in his office, you should get a different lawyer.
Ask if you’ll get the attorneys cell phone number so you can reach them directly when necessary, and ask for a guarantee that the lawyer you meet will be the same person who does all the work on your case and goes to court for every hearing.
The issue is quite simple: Do you want an attorney who treats you as a valued client, or one who pawns you off on some other lawyer you’ve never met before?
Question 3 Do you limit the number of clients you represent ?
This question will tell you how much time your barrister will be able to invest in your case, and how much work she will do on your case. It will also tell you what type of criminal
defence lawyer you’re working with.
You want a solicitor who will pull all of the breath test machine records, file written motions at the Court hearing, insist on visiting the scene and taking
tons of photos, invest 3 or 4 hours watching your 20 minute police interview , file Court application to suppress, and spend so much time on your case that you
think it will drag on forever.
These are the guys who spend their spare time reading traffic law books, field sobriety testing manuals, and Intoxilyzer records. Even with one of these lawyers by your side,
you might still be convicted of a drink driving offence, but if so, it’s only because there REALLY isn’t any other alternative and it is in your best interests to do so.
The difference between lawyers isn’t just the number of years in practise or their skill level, it’s also the number of clients that they accept each month.
Although there’s no magic number of clients your solicitor should handle at one time, but obviously, the more clients they accept each month, the less time they can spend on the
only case that matters to you: Yours.
You want someone to look at all of your
available defenses, so you know for certain you’re not pleading to something you’re not guilty of, then you need to hire the second category of lawyer. Yes, it’s going to be
a bigger investment, but this investment will actually be worthwhile.
Question 4 Have you ever been disciplined by the Law Society ?
The answer to this one should be “No.”
Before you meet with a lawyer, google their name this should reveal if that lawyer has been disciplined.
THE TRUTH is, your lawyer probably won’t have any disciplinary record. Most lawyers don’t. But if they do, ask them about it. Not all lawyer discipline is equal.
Recently a QC was disciplined for making comments about High Court Judges and this, has no reflection on their ability to represent you.
But if they were disciplined for incompetence or stealing clients money, you should run in the opposite direction as fast as you can. Even if their google search
history is clear, you should STILL ask the lawyer about any previous or pending disciplinary actions.
Question 5 What are all of the potential legal costs, including experts, trial, etc.?
Costs should be the least important factor issue you should consider when hiring a lawyer because you have too much to lose.
The lawyer should be honest with you about what your case will cost. You need to be secure that the lawyer isn’t running a “bait and switch,”luring you in with a promise of
unrealistically low fees and costs and then end up charging you an arm and a leg. That’s why those advertisements for “$600” don’t always tell the whole picture.
In many cases, the $600 fee only covers the costs of having the solicitor review your case and help you enter a plea. If you want anything “extra,” like having the barrister fight
to get your license back at the Court hearing, filing pre trial applications for example to prevent evidence being admitted, or preparing your case for trial, the costs go up.
If you can’t afford the extra steps, that $600 lawyer will just convince you that pleading guilty is the best thing to do.
By the way, experienced criminal defence lawyers don’t call these “extras,” we call them “the bare minimum.”
Also, you should ask about additional expenses such as expert witnesses, subpoena fees, exhibit preparation, and copy costs.
Talk with your lawyer about your ability to afford to retain an expert, because the lawyer may be UNABLE to raise certain defenses without the testimony of an expert witness.
Question 6 What challenges do you see in my case?
Your lawyer should be able to quickly explain to you what challenges they see, as well as what those challenges could mean for the ultimate result. If a solicitor won’t give you
a direct answer to this question, walk away. Your case is far too serious
to waste time talking with someone who won’t be completely straightforward with you.
You don’t want a lawyer who tells you what you want to hear – you want someone who tells you how things really are.
A good criminal defence lawyer should be able to immediately identify the problems areas with your matter, and tell you where the most likely defenses are going to be.
The more information you share with the attorney, the better they’ll be able to identify potential defenses.
Everything that you tell an attorney during this initial consultation is covered by client privilege, so you can be completely candid when answering all of their questions.
The more you remember about the night you were arrested, the more helpful you will be, so make sure you write everything down as soon as you get home before calling any potential lawyers.
THE TRUTH is, if your lawyer can’t identify likely defenses in your case during your initial conversation (or, even worse, won’t tell you), they’re probably not a good match for you.
Question 7 What will be the final outcome of my case ?
THE TRUTH is that an honest attorney will never promise you a specific result, because it’s impossible to be 100% certain how your case will turn out.
Any other answer is dishonest and unethical.
If the lawyer promises you that your case will be reduced or dismissed, they’re lying to you. Either hang up the phone, or stand up and walk out of their office.
A good lawyer can only promise to do his or her best job in defending you.
Your attorney can’t promise you a specific result, but they should guarantee that they’ll review your case for any possible motions to suppress evidence, any possible
motions to dismiss the entire case, and any mitigating evidence that might lead to a reduced sentence or reduced charges, such as Reckless Driving.
Your lawyer will be able to identify the strengths and weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case,and help you understand all of your options, so that you make the most
intelligent and informed decision about how to proceed with your case.