How to Choose a Criminal Defense Lawyer

 Posted on June 26, 2007 in Uncategorized

Today Avvo has a post today entitled Lost. Avvo categorizes the post as "How to Choose a Lawyer," but it's really about Avvo's research into people's experiences hiring lawyers. Among other things, Avvo asserts that

Over the past two years, 25 million Americans were faced with a situation in which they considered hiring an attorney, but they didn't because they didn't know how to choose one.

I'm pretty sure this doesn't apply to criminal-defense lawyers. People who "consider" hiring defenders figure out how to do so.

Avvo's Lost post refers to Scott Greenfield's "Good Questions Coming from the Avvo Debate" post. In that post Scott describes several methods of choosing a defender:

Referral from friend;Personal appointment;Referral from another lawyer;Price shopping.

Scott describes the problems he sees with each of these methods of choosing a lawyer. Those of you who have read my blog or my websites know that I advocate the second method - personal appointments - as the best way to choose a criminal-defense lawyer. Scott is concerned that clients using this method might choose either the "nice" lawyer or the lawyer who tells them what they want to hear.

I have always advised potential clients to talk to as many lawyers in the relevant community (for example, Houston criminal-defense lawyers, or Texas criminal-defense lawyers, or federal criminal-defense lawyers) before deciding who to hire. I further advise them to take along to the interviews a friend or loved one whose opinion they trust.

"Likeability," says Scott, "bears no connection to the lawyer's skillset." I disagree. Likeability bears a great connection to the lawyer's skillset - criminal defense trial lawyering is about communication, and better communication skills make a person more likeable. If all else is equal, an accused is going to do better in a jury trial with a lawyer that the jury likes than with one that the jury doesn't like.

More importantly, though, I believe that potential clients can easily be taught to focus not on likeability but on trustworthiness. Potential clients focused on trustworthiness will not hire glad-handing lawyers who "seem nice" but don't have the heart, brains, or backbone required to do the job. If the potential client goes into each interview asking, "do I trust this lawyer," the lawyers who are obviously saying what the customer wants to hear won't make the cut.

I have great confidence in the ability of people working together to tell who is shooting straight with them. While one person (especially one frightened person facing criminal charges) may get snookered by a snake-oil selling businessman, two people working together are much less likely to make the same mistake. The probability of that mistake is lessened even more when lawyers are placed in contrast. I would bet that two people working together and talking with three or four different lawyers will hire the guy who's best for the accused.I've been hired many times to replace lawyers who were recommended to the clients by their friends or by other lawyers, or who were the low bidders, but I've never been hired to replace a lawyer chosen by someone who took the effort to interview several candidates before hiring counsel. This method may not be foolproof, but it's the best method there is.

I'm such a believer that this way of choosing a criminal-defense lawyer is best for the clients that I've suggested to potential clients that they go and talk with two or three other lawyers before deciding whether to hire me. I'll even give the names of two or three good lawyers to potential clients if they ask. I take this very seriously - I'm not going to recommend people who I don't think could do a good job.

Avvo seeks to rationalize the process of hiring a lawyer by collecting the available data about all lawyers, but there is no amount of data that anyone could possibly give an accused that would tell her who the right lawyer is for her case. Hiring a criminal-defense lawyer is, and always will be, a leap of faith. Potential clients are better served by resources teaching them how to select a lawyer than those that purport to tell them which lawyers are better than others.

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