What should I look for when searching for a defense lawyer? 29 Answers as of June 20, 2011

I have been charged with a felony for domestic violence and need to find a defense lawyer in California. How should I screen them to make sure that I find the right lawyer for my case and not a hack who just wants my money?

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Law Office of Peter F. Goldscheider
Law Office of Peter F. Goldscheider | Peter Goldscheider
There are many lawyers out there who will say just about anything to get your money including promising results they cannot deliver on. The best way to find a criminal lawyer is by referral from a friend or other attorney who can attest for the reputation of the lawyer. The next best way is to go through a Lawyer Referral Service that each county bar association has. The final way is to try to find a criminal defense specialist certified by the State Bar. In all situations you should use your common sense and intuition into how interested and competent he appears to be. And again too many promises, watch out.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 6/20/2011
Law Office of Joseph A. Katz
Law Office of Joseph A. Katz | Joseph A. Katz
You have a few ways of trying to weed out the hacks that are just trying to schmooze you out of your money. There are many attorneys out there who are taking criminal law cases who should not be doing so. You will not find me handling a class action lawsuit, either, and for good reason. It is easy money for some unscrupulous practioners to take criminal defense cases, since the average client has no idea what a good deal is, and does not know that the attorney who, for example, usually practices civil litigation, or unemployment law, etc., is just bringing back to the client whatever proposed disposition the District Attorney first offered. That said, you can ask around for a referral, but some of those folks who happened to like a friendly and gregarious lawyer also do not really know if their attorney did a good job, or not. Is a good salesman friendly and likeable?!

Still, a history of good results is something to look for. Do a little research into your charges. Ask some questions. There are somereally good and informative websites out there, though some of them belong to Attorneys I would not recommend hiring. Also, is criminal defense the Attorney's main line of work? You cannot handle criminal law, bankruptcy, immigration, unemployment/Social Security law, family law, and everything else under the sun (just look at some of the ads in the Yellow Pages), and do any of them very well. What a joke. Do you see any doctor holding himself or herself out as an expert in neurosurgery, heart surgery, orthopedic surgery, maxillofacial surgery, and ophthamological surgery, all together? Of course not!

Use your common sense. It is not that the Attorney should only practice Criminal Law (and the realities of the modern economy make that more true than ever), but he or she should be a very experienced Criminal Defense Attorney who's practice in Criminal Law is one of his or her primary endeavors. Beware, however, of the attorney who tries to publish a list of his or her supposed successes, or results. I have probably handled more than eight-thousand cases. The list of my positive results, wins, dismissals and other highly favorable results would fill a volume, so do not be too impressed. Also, do not expect that an Attorney will have won a majority of their trial cases. The odds are stacked highly in favor of the prosecution (ex-District Attorney Judge, police witnesses that might distort the evidence or outright perjure themselves, etc.) Now, you have to start somewhere, so an Attorney that has not been in the game too long in a certain area of law might still be a committed advocate. Sometimes it comes down to your gut - do you feel that the Attorney is being sincere (remember what I said earlier about likeable salesmen?) and that you can trust him or her? Are they showing up? Doing what they said they would do when you first hired them? By the way, in addition to being experienced in Criminal Defense, is it your actual attorney who is showing up to Court, or did you hire a lawyer from a flyer you received in the mail with an '800' number, who hasan office in a differentCounty,who never shows up personally to handle your case and always sent someone else to your court hearings? Good luck with that.

Do you really think that the attorney who is making what is called a 'special appearance' for the other attorney is sharing your retainer? How committed to your case do you think that attorney is, or are they just a warm body with a Bar Card, there to continue the case either for a fee or as a favor for a friend. Not that special appearances are not legitimate. They are. I cannot be in three Courtroomsat the same time, though I sometimes do hit Courtrooms in different cities, or even different Counties, on thesame day. If I am in trial, I have to be there, in trial. I need someone to continue the other case. If your attorney never shows up and the case just keeps being continued and continued for months on end... Well,the writing is on the wall. Just read.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 4/18/2011
Law Office of Andrew Roberts
Law Office of Andrew Roberts | Andrew Stephen Roberts
You want someone who you can talk to - will be straight with you- and tell you the good and the bad! Your defenses- the problems of proof.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 4/18/2011
Law Office of David Swanson
Law Office of David Swanson | David Swanson
You might check out what kind of experience the lawyer has in handling criminal cases, including what types and whether they are felony or misdemeanor cases. Also what the lawyer's success rate in trial, with specific cases and their results provided to you so you can check them. If you have any other questions, please feel free to contact me.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 4/15/2011
Law Offices of Lawrence Wolf
Law Offices of Lawrence Wolf | Lawrence Wolf
First ask for a referral from a friend Next call the courthouse and ask the PD for a referral Third, call us.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 4/15/2011
    The Law Office of Harry E. Hudson, Jr.
    The Law Office of Harry E. Hudson, Jr. | Harry E. Hudson, Jr.
    Interview prospective attorneys. Look for reviews. When doing the interview, keep in mind that the attorney has to be objective and that might resultr in a view that is different than yours about the case.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 4/15/2011
    The Law Offices of Gabriel Dorman
    The Law Offices of Gabriel Dorman | Gabriel Dorman
    Great questions! Hiring the right criminal defense attorney to represent you is not easy. Fortunately, there are a number of steps you can take to ensure that you hire the right criminal defense attorney for you and your type of case.

    The following is a list of 10 tips you can use in hiring the right criminal defense attorney:
    1) Gather information - Be proactive and schedule consultations with a few attorneys to give you some different perspectives on your issue(s). Nothing takes away uncertainty and fear better than taking action;
    2) Conduct an Interview - Whomever you meet with, it is important that you interview them thoroughly about both their experience and your case. Leave no rock unturned. At the end of the day, this is your life that they will be involved in so dont be shy;
    3) Experience - It is imperative that the criminal attorney you hire has a thorough knowledge of criminal law (you can tell by how well they answer your questions), extensive experience defending people in the court in which your case is filed (beware of attorneys promoting themselves as "former prosecutors" now defending you as, often time, most of their career has been spend putting people in jail not defending them), and experience handling your kind of case, i.e. domestic violence;
    4) Communication - Pay attention to how they are communicating with you. Are you being talked at or are they having a conversation with you? Are they involving you in the discussion? Do you feel like they are listening to you? Are they sufficiently answering your questions?;
    5) Your Concerns and Expectations - a good criminal defense lawyer will make a point to ask you about your concerns and expectations because they matter;
    6) Honesty - While your expectations matter, they may sometimes be unrealistic given your set of circumstances or the facts of your case. You are not expected to understand what the possible outcomes are for your case. However, an honest lawyer should tell you what you can realistically expect to happen prior to taking your money;
    7) Speak with the Actual Lawyer - You should not settle for less than speaking with the actual attorney who will be handling your case from start to finish. Do not believe it when they tell you they work on all cases together. It just doesnt happen. If the attorney can't make time for you before you pay them, they aren't going to after you do;
    8) Beware of the Hard Sell - Many lawyers like to use words like dismissal as a means to lift your spirits and/or your expectations to what can realistically happen on your case. A dismissal for every client would be great but the fact of the matter is not every case is appropriate for dismissal;
    9) No Guarantees - Any lawyer willing to guarantee you a specific result is selling you something you do not want. The only guarantee a lawyer can make is that they will work extremely hard in your defense; and
    10) Go with Your Gut - Often the best judge of what is right for you is your intuition. How does it feel to you? Do you feel a connection with this person? At the end of the day, go with your gut feeling as it will guide you to making the right decision for you. I hope this answer was helpful. Good luck.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 4/15/2011
    Law Office of Joseph Galasso
    Law Office of Joseph Galasso | Joseph Galasso
    You want to find an attorney that only does criminal law. Also you want to find one that practices in the county where you are charged because they will often have a working relationship with the DAs and judges.

    To find out if they are the right attorney for your case you will want to meet with the attorney face to face to see if you trust them, can talk to them freely, they ask questions and seem interested in your case, not just your money.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 11/12/2010
    Law Office of Thomas F. Mueller
    Law Office of Thomas F. Mueller | Thomas Mueller
    I suggest finding out the following;

    how long the lawyer has been in practice.

    does he specialize in Criminal Law

    will he handle the case himself or pass it off to a junior associate

    how do you relate to him in an interview

    If you have more questions or wish to come in for a free consultation, call us!
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 11/11/2010
    Law Office of Thomas J. Ogas
    Law Office of Thomas J. Ogas | Thomas Ogas
    You are going to need to talk to a few lawyers to get a sense of how each one behaves, and let your gut pick the one that you trust the most.

    What you're looking for is someone who is genuinely more interested in your case than getting the contract signed. Someone who is not too busy to talk with you, or doesn't have too much work. You should also try to hire a lawyer who will personally handle the case, not one that will turn your file over to other attorneys in his firm.

    If the attorney tries to scare you into hiring a lawyer "right now" that's not the right one for you. If they try to impress you with success stories and how great they or their firm are, that's not the right one for you either. Find someone who seems to understand you and your case, and seems to be "on the same page" as you with how you want things done.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 11/11/2010
    Law Office of William R Fuhrman
    Law Office of William R Fuhrman | William R Fuhrman
    First, restrict your search to those attorneys whose office is located reasonably close to the courthouse where your case will be prosecuted and who have criminal defense experience, preferably experience with domestic violence cases [plural].

    Then, ask people you know for their recommendation and go to the website of each attorney you are considering to learn about him or her. The law requires that the website content be accurate.

    Check online with the California State Bar to see if they have been disciplined; few ever have been.

    Meet with each for about one-half hour, which they should be willing to provide at no cost, to learn more about the attorneys experience, to see if you feel comfortable with the attorney, to compare prices, and to see if you get straight answers to your questions.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 11/11/2010
    Dennis Roberts, a P.C.
    Dennis Roberts, a P.C. | Dennis Roberts
    This a really tough question as there are a lot of bums who do not give a damn and only want your money. One possible source of this information is to ask a friend who has been the through the system who he used and whether he was happy with the result. I practice in the Bay Area and you can check out my web site. If the case is outside of the Bay Area let me know what county and I can give you a recommendation. I know most of the good criminal lawyers in the State as I was once the President of the statewide criminal defense lawyers organization (CACJ).
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 11/10/2010
    Law Office of Eric Sterkenburg
    Law Office of Eric Sterkenburg | Eric Sterkenburg
    Look for someone that is experienced, has professional contacts and that you can get along with. You must have one that you can click with and that will give you the attention you feel you deserve.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/19/2010
    Nelson & Lawless
    Nelson & Lawless | Terry Nelson
    Someone you feel comfortable with. Trust in his judgment. Experience. Honest discussion of your expectations, not overblown statistics and promises of outcome. Price is last. If serious about getting defense counsel, feel free to contact me.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/18/2010
    Law Office of Geoffrey M. Yaryan
    Law Office of Geoffrey M. Yaryan | Geoffrey M. Yaryan
    You should interview several attorneys and then make a decision.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/16/2010
    Law Office of Marc K. Herbert
    Law Office of Marc K. Herbert | Marc K. Herbert
    You should look for someone whose office is close to the courthouse, with at least 7 years experience and no complaints against him/her with the State Bar of California.

    Usually, someone who often appears in a local court has developed a rapport with the District Attorneys and judges, which often helps their clients. If there are any unusual rules or policies that can help you, they should know about it and be familiar using it to your advantage.

    A lawyer with experience knows the defenses to use and can push the DA to negotiate more fairly. Also, an experienced attorney is not afraid of jury trial, which can also help with negotiating the case.

    However, make sure that the lawyer whose name is on the door will be the same lawyer who actually appears with you in Court. Sometimes, a larger firm will use the most experienced attorney to sign contracts, then send an inexperienced lawyer into Court to do the work.

    Be sure to check with the website for the State Bar of California. Run a search of the lawyer's name, and you can learn about any complaints against him/her.

    Ultimately, you may need to interview 2 or 3 lawyers before you find someone qualified, whom you trust, that wants to aggressively work your case. There are no specific rules on that, but after a couple of interviews, you should have a pretty good "gut feeling".

    A domestic violence charge is very serious, so take your time and make a good choice. In California, domestic violence can be a felony, with up to 3 years state prison based on any prior convictions and the specific facts of your case.

    This charge is also a "crime of moral turpitude", which can affect your ability to get a professional license from the state or a security clearance for a job.

    But, these cases can be well-defended if you have a good attorney who talks with every witness, issues subpoenas for 911 tapes and negotiates well with the DA.

    If you would like to talk about your case in more detail, please call my office.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/16/2010
    The Law Office of Stacey Wolcott
    The Law Office of Stacey Wolcott | Stacey Wolcott
    In my opinion it is important to speak to the person you are considering as hiring as your attorney to represent you. Most attorneys will meet with you in person for a free consultation. You must feel comfortable talking to the person and being able to tell them your side of the story. I also believe it is a very important aspect that you know what you access to the attorney is, are you able to reach them when you have a question. It is also important for you to know are they the person who is going to show up in court with you or will you have a different attorney from the office each time you go to court.

    I always offer a free consultation at my office or if that is not convenient we can pick a place to meet. I will spend the time to answer your questions and explain the process to you.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/15/2010
    Law Office of Jeff Yeh
    Law Office of Jeff Yeh | Jeff Yeh
    The best way is to call the lawyer. See if you can speak to the actual attorney, or whether you get passed around from secretary to attorney to attorney. Some attorneys have experience, but they simply pass your case down to young associates he/she hires. You should find an attorney who has experience AND will personally represent you from start to finish. After all, your case could result in state prison AND a 52 week DV class after you are released.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/15/2010
    Law Offices of Ramona Hallam
    Law Offices of Ramona Hallam | Ramona Hallam
    The answer to your question relies upon many subjective factors. Some defendants can tolerate an attorney with a biting attitude as long as he/she does a good job (even if they feel like a louse during the case), other people want a sympathetic ear even if very little work is performed on the case. It is difficult to determine whether an attorneys claims are "puffing" or not. The best strategy might be to ask questions about the legal merits of the case to see how much they know and are willing to do.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/15/2010
    The Law Office of Sam Salhab
    The Law Office of Sam Salhab | Samer Salhab
    The only possible way to really "screen" them is to meet them face to face and ask them questions. Trial experienced attorneys are usually the ones you want to hire. Call for a free consultation and I would be happy to meet with you and discuss your options.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/15/2010
    Law Office of Marc E. Grossman
    Law Office of Marc E. Grossman | Marc Grossman
    Look for a lawyer who is a regular at the court where your matter is pending and whose background is strictly criminal. If you can find a lawyer who is not only a local but also a former prosecutor from the court where your case, that lawyer will have a "home court" advantage over outside counsel. Ask the lawyer who prosecutes the DV cases in the court where your matter is pending. You want to hire the lawyer who not only knows the answer to that question but who has had many cases with that person before. Good luck with your matter.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/15/2010
    Desert Defenders
    Desert Defenders | John Jimenez
    Find an attorney who is experienced in criminal defense, has a good education from a reputable school, is whose office is located near the geographic area where the case is or practices regularly in that courthouse. And, MOST IMPORTANTLY, someone you are comfortable speaking to, and who will be available to you when you need his or her attention.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/15/2010
    Law Office of Joe Dane
    Law Office of Joe Dane | Joe Dane
    Start with referrals from anyone you know connected to the legal field. I know, given the situation that you may not want to disclose the situation with anyone, but if you can, always start with a personal referral.

    From there, do a Google search on prospective attorneys. Look over their websites (if they have one). You are looking for a criminal lawyer. You do NOT want somebody that lists all sorts of "practice areas" on their website that have nothing to do with criminal law. On a felony domestic violence situation, you're facing up to 4 years state prison (or more, depending on how it's charged by the prosecution). You do not want some attorney that handles divorce, dog bite and bankruptcy messing with this. Just like you wouldn't want any doctor doing brain surgery, you don't want a general lawyer dabbling in criminal law when it is your case.

    From there, it's all about your connection with the attorney. You are going to have to meet face to face. You'll get a sense of personality, background, and what their general knowledge of the law is within a few minutes. See if they have a plan of attack for your case. What are the options? Can they tell you from memory what the sentencing range of the charges you face are? That tells you you're dealing with somebody who knows what they're talking about. Watch out for anyone that promises you a certain outcome or vague assurances about the outcome of your case. Nobody can ethically guarantee any outcome.

    You can make yourself nuts trying to interview 50 lawyers. I would suggest that after your online research into them, you meet at least a couple, if not three. You will get a sense of who you are most comfortable with from there. Good luck.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/15/2010
    The English Law Firm
    The English Law Firm | Robert English
    I would question them on their background in criminal matters, years of experience, trial statistics, etc. My office is available if you are in Southern California and I would be glad to go over my qualifications with you.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/15/2010
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