Legal Representation - How to Select an Attorney
If you're like most people who have just gotten arrested and spent any time in jail, you're probably an emotional mess, scared, worried, nervous or a combination of those emotions and many more. A good night's sleep may be hard to get, about now.
This is not a small claims case where you have to go it alone. Criminal cases are stressful since so much is on the line. There are two things in life that are precious above all: health and freedom. Criminal cases attack your freedom (and your emotional health due to stress) so they must be addressed head-on, with vigor, intelligence and skill. Once you begin the attorney selection process and obtain representation, you will feel better (and probably begin to sleep again) since you have taken the first step in protecting your freedom and your future knowing that a criminal conviction can and will follow you for the rest of your life.
You have three choices when it comes to your defense:
Never a good choice and basically a very unwise decision. It is has been said "One who represents himself has a fool for a client." I see DAs talking to "pro pers" (those who represent themselves) in small groups in court all the time. It's a "take it or leave it" approach. The DA extends an "offer." Usually, the "offer" is pleading guilty to all charges and accepting whatever sentence the DA recommends. There is no give and take. A skilled attorney, on the other hand, knows that this is a negotiation where each party has certain interests at stake. With this in mind, an attorney will adopt a strategic plan to obtain goals. He does this using years of experience in similar cases and carefully analyzing the facts while highlighting his client's strong points.
They are free of charge if you financially qualify (although the client is assessed ability to pay fees at the end). Public Defenders can be great lawyers, punch the clock variety lawyers or somewhere in between. There's no picking and choosing your PD. You get who they assign you and that's that. Many PDs are overworked with a heavy caseload and some are just "burned out." Many others are highly skilled and fight hard for you within the parameters of their allotted time for your case. This should only be an option if there are no resources available to hire a private attorney. If you cannot pay for legal counsel, the PD is your only option besides going pro per, so make the best of it.
If you don't have the money for private counsel, try to somehow raise it. This is a crucially important event in your life so don't make a mistake and possibly lose your freedom. Having skilled private counsel gives you better access to your lawyer and, in general, a better shot at getting the charges dropped or lessened. It's the best thing you can do for yourself when charged with a criminal offense.
Time is always of the essence. Act now and begin the selection process. Select an attorney who you trust and can talk to comfortably. Most important: select an attorney who will do more than talk, lecture and be judgmental. That's what the cops like to do. It's time for a different approach to things.
Important keys to the selection process
Generalist vs. Specialist
You want a Criminal Defense attorney who has experience with cases like yours. Lawyers who started out as public defenders or prosecutors obtained valuable courtroom experience. Be wary of the former prosecutors because it's hard for some of them to change their stripes. Their orientation involved dealing with police officers and victims. Police officers (with exceptions, of course) generally think anyone not on their side is a _________ (fill in the blank).
You want an attorney who has defended cases like yours. Would you rather have a first year medical school graduate or a seasoned doctor with 20 years of heart surgery experience perform the operation? It's a no brainer -- go with the pro.
Word of Mouth
Ask people you know who may have been in a similar situation. A personal recommendation goes a long way.
Get online and check the attorney out. The state bar's website ( http://members.calbar.ca.gov/search/member.aspx) will tell you if the lawyer has a history of being disciplined or suspended. These are red flags telling you to beware and to ask questions. It will also tell you the lawyer's educational history. A lawyer who attended local schools may have developed key contacts that could help your case.
This is a great way to check out various attorneys. Take lawyers up on their free consultation offers and see how you feel about the various people you speak to. Pay attention to how the phone is answered and how long you wait before a call back. See if you can obtain the lawyer's cell phone no. Make sure you speak to an actual lawyer. Some firms have "set-up" persons who do the initial interview and attempt to "sell" you on the lawyer's extraordinary credentials. Avoid the set-up guy and speak to the person who will be there for you. If they decline, look elsewhere.
Red Flags -Things to look out for
Be wary of anyone who promises too much. A good attorney will not have all the answers or be able to guarantee any particular outcome. Anyone who does make big promises or sweeping statements is someone to avoid. You can get a feel for who is being straight with you after speaking to two or three lawyers who know your area of the law. Example: a lawyer told a domestic violence client that he, the lawyer, could get the charges dismissed since the lawyer could obtain "diversion" (meaning that the case would be continued so that client could go to a program and avoid further trouble). Only one problem: diversion is legally unavailable in DV cases (only in personal possession of narcotics cases). When a lawyer makes a big promise, check it out with others before relying on that promise.
Some lawyers tell potential clients that the only way to escape being thrown in the slammer is to hire the lawyer. They may say that they have such deep and long lasting relations with the judge or prosecutor that other lawyers will fail miserably in comparison. They may also say that your case is so serious as to call for immediate incarceration on the first court appearance unless that lawyer is hired on the spot for a sizeable up-front fee. I've heard about such lawyers from clients who ran from them. Don't fall for the fear pitch--it's only a pitch. Listen to the calm voices of experience and reason--not of fear.
Avoid ambulance chasers, coupon givers, special discounts for first timers, or an attorney who is very low cost compared to others you have spoken to. However tempting it may be, do not make this important decision on price alone. Hire the best person you can afford. The best are never the cheapest. This is true in every profession.
Lawyers offering bargain-basement prices, coupons, introductory offers and "first offense specials" are using marketing tools to get your attention. They also likely do a "volume" practice--meaning that they take in a large number of cases for very low fees. The client then receives only token attention and representation from the lawyer who cannot devote much time and attention to the case. In many cases, the outcome depends on the lawyer appearing for you multiple times, filing motions and being creative. Bargain-basement priced lawyers do bargain-basement type work.
Paying the Big Fat Fee to Get Off
Some lawyers spend a large amount of money for various advertisements, including print, radio and TV. This large outlay requires large fees to defray these costs. The big fee lawyer often says that you can only get the best by paying the most. This is another attempt to persuade. Many lawyers believe that large, plush, expensively furnished offices will impress the client. Hire such a lawyer at your peril since business can go up and down. When it goes down, you may find that the lawyer has moved or been evicted. So be careful of the "big fat fee" lawyer.
One client's experience
Here's what one client has to say about her attorney search process in a DUI case:
"I am an anthropologist so I overanalyze all possible data when making important decisions.
I interviewed eleven DUI attorneys, ranging from the highest priced with the "best education/background" (on paper, probably not in practice) to the best advertised, to the ones with the convincing sounding angles, but I went with Michael Shultz. Here's why:
1. Some of these guys sound gimmicky. If they tell you they can for sure get you off, they are shysters. Don't go with those attorneys. It's best to be represented by someone who is realistic. Gimmicks include: uncalibrated machines, stomach digestion experts, degrees from Harvard, the "most satisfied clients," etc.
2. Some of them try to reel you in by sounding over confident/the alpha male thing. My fear with these attorneys is that they might have a bad reputation/relationship with the prosecutors for being pompous. No judge or prosecutor wants to throw a bone to some jerk she/he has to battle in court all the time. They want to work with nice, but firm, lawyers like Michael.
3. Some offices permit you to talk to the big shot attorney when you are interviewing, but upon further examination, their firm is chock full of lackey attorneys with sub-par training who really handle your case. Beware of those. Most of the attorneys that advertise are like this. My feeling is that you will be another number to them and won't get the personal attention your case needs.
As far as Michael Shultz goes, he gave my case personal attention. He brainstormed many different scenarios and strategies with me. Plus, I do not speak legalese. He took the time to explain foreign concepts to me and talk me through the process. He did not simply try to rush my case through to move onto the next client. Michael is extremely clever and cares about his clients.
I really like Michael's realistic attitude and he is not too expensive for all the effort he puts in (unless you need to hire experts, go to trial, etc. which I didn't think would help my case) plus, Michael didn't force me to hire experts that I did not need. I trust that if he tells you that you need an expert witness or something, just pay for it.
I am taking the 12 hour mandated alcohol ed class now, and I was the only one in the class on the Westside (read: everyone could afford an attorney and many paid for "the best" for 5-10 grand) with a reckless charge in the end. There are people in that class with better cases than me who came out much worse. You may get off this one, or you may end up with a DUI --that's just the way it goes -- but I highly recommend not wasting your time interviewing others and hiring Michael. Good Luck!"
Another client who recently plea bargained away her DUI: "I chose you to be my lawyer because of your experience, track record, felt comfortable while speaking to you on the phone and because you were a Loyola Law School graduate. Thanks for your help today!"
Wrapping it up and why you should call Michael L. Shultz
I have over 30 years experience in defending people who have found themselves in trouble. I have a small practice which means you will have very personal and attentive service. I am available by phone any time and you will have my personal number to reach me day or night.
I have also been nominated as one of the "Ten Best" DUI/DWI Attorneys in California by the American Institute of DUI/DWI Atttorneys for 2015.
My practice is small for one reason only--I like it that way and it allows me to choose the cases that I want and the people who I feel good about. So not only are you going to select me, I am going to select you. Let's get to know each other and discuss your case. I offer a no obligation, free, comprehensive case evaluation.
This is what you will receive absolutely free:
In a recent case, I obtained a dismissal for a client in a battery case. The client's reaction:
"Michael --Again, thanks so much for everything. You are the best!
Patience and a willingness to listen are traits all attorneys should strive to obtain. Attorneys who exhibit these traits perfom more effectively for their clients.
I also recommend that you call two or three attorneys and compare what they tell you and see if they seem respectful, straightforward, honest and knowledgeable. It is generally not necessary, however, for you to call every lawyer on the internet and repeat your story over and over again.