What should I consider when hiring a criminal defense lawyer?

Lawyers provide a service, just like a plumber, electrician, or mechanic.  Some service providers are good, some are not.  If you hire the wrong plumber, you get overflowing toilets.  With an electrician, a bad one could cause and electric fire and burn down your house.  With a bad lawyer, you could end up with a criminal record, jail time, and loss of rights, like license suspensions or a prohition on firearm possession.

When hiring a service provider, many people contact friends for a referall or reference, or they head to Google.  With a Google search, you look for experience and reviews.  With reviews, you are looking for things like ultimate outcome, communication, and costs.  Good attorneys should have a track record of success over the years, and success can be measured by factors such as years of experience; client review; reviews from other attorneys; professional awards; membership in legal associations.  Also, does the attorney appear to be a good person?

All attorneys, even free ones, can be reviewed by clients and peers.  If your attorney does not have any reviews online, that is a huge red flag.  Would you hire an electrician that has been in business for 10 or more years and had no reviews?  Would you buy something as simple as a coffee maker if it had no review?  Then why would you use a free attorney that does not have any reviews?  A good lawyer should have experience, case wins, positive reviews from clients and peers, and should have professional awards like being selected as a Super Lawyer.

1. Experience

Criminal defense attorney v. jack-of-all-trades:  Having criminal defense experience matters.  Would you hire a plumber to fix your car?  Would you want you general practictioner doctor to perform heart surgery?  Then why would you hire a divorce attorney for a criminal defense case?  Why would you place your trust in an attorney that dabbles in lots of different types of cases when you could hire an attorney that is focused solely on criminal defense?  The adage “jack-of-all-trades but master of none” is applicable.  An attorney that is focused on criminal defense is normally more knowledgeable and experienced, and that experience often produces better results. You should also look to retain an attorney that has represented clients in the county in which the charges are being filed.  While the law is the same across the state of Pennsylvania, you want an attorney that knows the police, prosecutors, and judges.  “Knowing” the players involved in the system is not because it is a buddy-buddy system.  A good lawyer wants to know the opposition.  Why do sport teams scout their opponents?  They want to “know” the opponent and thereby exploit weaknesses and minimize strengths.  Knowing the players involved helps obtain better results for a client.

2. Results – Case Wins

Do you hire a winner or a loser?  An attorney with years of experience should have wins and favorable outcomes for clients.  Wins come in the form of not guilty verdicts at trial, having evidence suppressed at pretrial hearings, and having convictions overturned on appeal.  But good attorneys are often able to reach favorable resolutions for clients through negotiatsion.  When reviewing your case, an experienced attorney can often compare your case to other cases that were handled by the attorney, discuss the result that was obtained, and then explain a strategy that can be used in your case to try and obtain a similar result.

3. Client Reviews

Do former clients recommend a lawyer?  ALL attorneys in Pennsylvania can be reviewed by former clients on websites like Google, AVVO, or Martindale Hubbell.  An attorney with years of experience should have accumulated reviews over the years.  Check reviews to make sure that they span years of representation to show a history of good service.  It is shocking that people spend more time considering reviews on items like coffee makers and toasters but not on attorneys.

4. Professional Associations & Accolades

What do other lawyers in the community and criminal defense field have to say about a particular lawyer?  You may think that lawyers would say nice things about a collegue.  That is often not the case.  Good lawyers are proud of the reputation that has been built over the years, and they would not recommend another lawyer that would tarnish that repution.  Has the lawyer been selected as a Super Lawyer?  Is the attorney involved in criminal defense associations?  For example, Attorney Jason Dunkle  has been nominated as a Rising Star or Super Lawyer every year since 2011, is on the Executive Board of the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (PACDL), and has many reviews from defense attorneys across the state of Pennsylvania.  If the lawyer is not respected or recognized by other criminal defense lawyers, or if that attorney is not associated with defense attorney organizations, then why would you hire that attorney?

5. Cost

Money is always an important factor.  Old adages are often correct, and here it is “you get what you pay for.”  That adage is NOT always correct.  Some terrible attorneys charge a lot of money, and great attorneys are public defenders that provide free legal services.  But, in general, you must pay for experience and service.  A good attorney can often obtain a better resolution that reduces both the short and long term ramifications, so the money is well spent.  Good attorneys can guarantee that nothing bad will happen, but good attorneys will get the best resolution possible to minimize negative consequences.

6. Personality

Do you like the attorney as a person?  You should feel absolutely comfortable with an attorney before you retain them. The attorney will be your partner, ally, and friend throughout what is sometimes a contentious, scary experience. The attorney-client relationship is a partnership, and you must feel that your lawyer has all your interests at heart and will fight as hard as possible to achieve the best possible resolution.

To check out State College criminal defense attorney Jason S. Dunkle, click here.