How To Find an Attorney


If you have been arrested, you have certain rights, one of these being the right to request a lawyer. Remember that you may be limited to the amount of phone calls you can make, so it is a good idea to have a friend or relative locate a lawyer for you. You may be thinking ‘why do I need a lawyer?’ While you are not required to have one, a criminal defense lawyer can advise you of your rights, protect your interests and guide you through the complicated legal system that you are now faced with. The sooner you get a lawyer involved with your case, the better.

Important

  • You have the right to request an attorney.
  • Your phone calls will be limited, so make sure you call a lawyer, or get someone to do it for you.

Do You Really Need an Attorney?

Obviously, the need for a lawyer depends on the severity of the crime. While a speeding ticket or DUI may not necessarily warrant their services, if you are faced with anything more serious, it is essential. Remember, that you have the right to request a lawyer immediately. Once you make this request, you are not obliged to answer any more questions without your lawyer present. Do not agree to anything such participating in a lineup or having blood drawn until you have consulted with your lawyer.

Important

  • It is essential to get an attorney for most criminal charges.
  • Request an attorney immediately.
  • Don’t answer any questions until you’ve seen an attorney.

What If You Can’t Afford an Attorney?

If you do not hire a lawyer immediately, or you can’t afford one, you will be assigned a public defender at the time of your arraignment. If the charge is a misdemeanor, some courts will allow you to enter a plea at this time, and your lawyer will be able to advise you on this. If you have a bail hearing, you lawyer will file a motion for OR (own recognizance) release. This means that they are requesting that the court allows you to be released without bail, on condition that you agree to appear in court when necessary. Your lawyer will fight on your behalf to persuade the judge that you will make good on this.

Important

  • If you can’t afford an attorney, you will be assigned a public defender, which is basically a free lawyer that is provided for you by the court system.

If you are facing more serious charges, bail will be set. This is based on the severity of the crime, your character and previous record, and whether you are a flight risk. In the worst-case scenario, you may be denied bail altogether. If you lawyer considers the amount of bail set to be too high, they can file for a bail reduction.

How To Choose The Right Lawyer

Once you are out of jail awaiting trial, you have certain choices: you can stick with the lawyer you originally called or the public defender that was assigned to you, or you can pick a new lawyer. For a specific crime, it is a good idea to hire a lawyer that specializes in that area. The best place to start is with personal recommendations. If someone has had a good experience with a lawyer themselves, they will be only too happy to put you in touch with them. You need to contact the state bar and check if the lawyer is in good standing, or if they have any complaints lodged against them. The state bar can also give you an idea of the hourly rate that a lawyer will charge. Also, check with local legal assistance groups.

Important

  • Choose a lawyer that specializes in the type of crime that you are charged with.
  • Try to find a lawyer via recommendations from friends or family or other people who may have used the lawyer in the past.
  • You can get lawyer recommendations from the Bar Association in your state.
  • Also check your local Legal Aid Society for recommendations or for the availability of attorneys that do pro bono work.

How To Hire a Lawyer

If you are hiring a new lawyer, arrange a meeting with them. Most lawyers will initially meet up with you free of charge. When arranging the meeting, you will also get a good idea of how busy they are: if they can meet you immediately, this may mean that they have no other clients (which could be a red flag as to how effective they are). On the other hand, if they can’t meet you for a while, this may be an indication that they are overloaded with work, and may not be able to devote enough time to your case. When you meet the lawyer, ask about past cases that they have worked on, and the outcome, and be sure to get referrals. Make sure you get a written breakdown of all hourly rates and other fees.

  • Here are some examples of the questions you should ask any potential lawyer:
  • Have you previously handled a case like mine? If so, what was the outcome?
  • How many years experience do you have?
  • What do you charge?
  • Do you require any money up-front?
  • What alternatives do I have in my case?
  • What are the best and worst-case scenarios in my case?

How Much Does a Lawyer Cost?

Unfortunately, lawyers tend to be very expensive; this is why you need to get detailed information about all fees. These can include hourly rates, flat fees or retainers. The most common of these are hourly rate charges. Depending on where you live, the severity of the crime or complexity of the case, and experience of the lawyer, fees can range from $50 per hour to $400 per hour. Don’t forget other expenses such as filing fees and court costs.

Public Defender

If the prior costs seem intimidating to you, you are not alone in that thought. Many people simply can’t afford to hire a lawyer, but don’t worry. Depending on your finances and the crimes you have been charged with, you may be entitled to free representation in the form of a public defender. Public defenders have the same qualifications as private lawyers, and they are required to represent you as vigorously as a private lawyer would. Most public defenders have many years of experience.  While you will not be able to use a public defender for minor offenses like traffic tickets, infractions, and misdemeanors, you will be able to use a public defender for more serious crimes, if you qualify.

Pro Bono

Also, there are many organizations and programs out there that offer free representation in the form of pro bono lawyers. Most law firms offer pro bono lawyers, and in fact some state bar associations have a requirement that a lawyer complete a minimum amount of pro bono hours per year. Many lawyers don’t actually advertise pro bono services, so it is up to you to locate one. As with a public defender, you have to be able to prove your income level to qualify for their services.

Important

  • Some attorneys may represent you for free – this is called ‘pro bono’.

Do Not Represent Yourself in Court!

One thing is for sure – do not be tempted to represent yourself, as it will not end well. If you choose to represent yourself, or be a ‘pro se litigant’, you are held to the same standards as a professional lawyer. If you don’t follow the rules and regulations of the court, you will be subject to litigation sanctions. Often, you will get so tied up in procedural rules, that you won’t be able to concentrate on your actual case.  Only an experienced lawyer will have the depth of knowledge required to put on a great defense.

Important

  • Do not represent your self!  Make sure you have an attorney representing you!

In conclusion, there are a lot of things to take into account when choosing a lawyer to represent you. Do your homework, and don’t just go with the first one that you meet. You need to be able to form a positive working relationship with this person in order to get the best outcome for yourself.

Resource Links:

Directory of National Legal Aid Societies

Georgia State Bar Guide to Choosing a Lawyer

Pro Bono Wikipedia Entry

American Bar Association Pro Bono Information

Pro Se Wikipedia Entry

United States District Court Guide to Pro Se

This page was last updated on October 12, 2017 @ 7:46 AM EST.


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