What to Look For in a Criminal Defense Lawyer
Find out how many jury trials the lawyer has had in criminal cases – You must know how many jury trials your attorney has had in misdemeanor and felony cases. Competence and skill in jury trial is a criminal defense lawyer’s most important skill. Unfortunately, if you spent any time watching jury trials at courthouses around Texas, you would be shocked to see how many horrible trial lawyers practice in our courtrooms. You would also see the shocked look on the face of their unfortunate clients! It is too late for them, but not for you. You must understand that lawyers do not learn how to try cases in law school. Lawyers only get good at trying cases by trying lots of cases. Lawyers who do not have a lot of trial experience will not advertise it. Be wary if their jury trial experience is not spelled out on their website. There are exceptions, but lawyers who spent some time as a prosecutor usually have more trials than lawyers with the same number of years of experience who started out in private practice.
2. Board Certification or at least high percentage of practice devoted to criminal law – Criminal Law is an ever-changing field. Lawyers who “dabble” in criminal law will not be able to keep up with changing statutes and case law, let alone maintain a reputation with the judges and prosecutors. Also, trying a case is not like riding a bicycle. Trial skills must be maintained and honed through litigating criminal matters in the courtroom.
Board certification is a good way of knowing that your lawyer has devoted himself to criminal law. Many excellent criminal defense lawyers are not board certified, but it is sometimes difficult for someone who is not familiar with the legal community to sort out who is good and who is not. A board certified criminal lawyer must be license to practice law for at least 5 years, substantially devoted their practice of criminal law for 3 years, experienced in a wide variety of criminal matters, documented as completing substantial hours of criminal law continuing education, evaluated by fellow judges and lawyers, and tested successfully at a day-long written examination on state and federal law in Austin. Less than 10% of criminal defense lawyers are board certified. Only this group can even advertise that they are criminal law specialists. That should matter to you.
3. Make Sure the Lawyer you talk to will ACTUALLY be the one who represents you – Some people go to a law firm and talk to an outstanding lawyer with great experience and ability. They pay a good sum of money expecting that this person will be handling their case only to find that they get dumped on a less experienced, less skilled attorney. Do not allow this to happen to you. The relationship between a criminal defense lawyer and his client should be strong and not delegated to a committee.
4. Be wary of lawyers who promise specific outcomes – No good lawyer promises a result.