MY PHILOSOPHY ON CHOOSING A LAWYER
Hiring a criminal defense attorney is one of the most important decisions that you will make in your life. When you are charged with a crime, your freedom, your career, and your reputation are at stake. It is essential that the lawyer you select practices criminal defense exclusively, and has experience handling the type of charges brought against you. Additionally, you and your lawyer must be able to communicate easily, effectively, and confidently.
When charged with a crime, many individuals and families fail to take the time necessary to select the best attorney. There are many reasons for that. Most people have never had to hire a criminal defense attorney before. Being arrested and charged with a serious crime is a terrifying experience. When a loved one is charged with a felony offense, a bond is frequently required, and the family is frequently frantic to have someone to handle the case.
If you find yourself in this situation, I urge you to take your time. In the age of the Internet, there is information available about most lawyers. Most basically, the Arizona State Bar has a website, listing every lawyer in Arizona. Lawyers are required to list their area of interest. If you, or a loved one, are charged with a criminal offense, you want a lawyer whose area of interest is criminal defense. You do not want a lawyer who focuses on other areas, such as domestic relations, wills, personal injury, etcetera. Those lawyers, in lean times, will take a criminal case, and at a reduced rate. But they are simply incapable of defending your case against an experienced prosecutor who has spent years doing nothing but representing the State in criminal cases. If you are charged with a crime, you must have a lawyer who focuses on criminal defense.
Almost every lawyer’s website advertises accomplishments, real or imagined. Many of these supposed “accomplishments” are merely purchased, or illusory. A few are real. The Martindale-Hubbell service has been ranking attorneys for over 30 years. They obtain those rankings by polling lawyers in the locale in which the ranked attorney practices. The Choosing a Lawyer rating system rates attorneys from A (highest) to B (middle) to C (lowest) ranking. Martindale-Hubbell attaches a “V” to lawyers who maintain high ethical standards. For many years, I have had an AV rating, the highest rating possible through Martindale-Hubbell.
A listing in Best Lawyers in America is another real credential. Lawyers are selected for listing in Best Lawyers in America only if they are voted on by their peers. You cannot pay to be listed in Best Lawyers in America. I have been listed in Best Lawyers in America since 2000.
In 1994, I was selected as Trial Lawyer of the Year by the American Trial Lawyers for Public Justice. That organization selects a handful of lawyers throughout the entire United States to be honored for unusual accomplishments. I am extremely proud of that award, and am one of only two criminal defense attorneys in Tucson to have received it.
Lawyer Advertising – “Mills”
Lawyer advertising, including television, radio, billboards, etc., has become commonplace. Many people think that if a lawyer is successful enough to be able to afford advertising, it is a mark in their favor. Actually, you should steer clear of lawyers that advertise heavily. Advertising is expensive. To afford it, lawyers resort to an assembly line or “mill” type of practice. That is, the lawyer whose name is on the ad or billboard meets you for the first interview, but you are then handed off to a series of associates and paralegals. A different attorney may show up every time you appear in court. It is a formula for more money for the lawyer, but poor representation for the client. When you are charged with a crime, you need an attorney that handles your case from start to finish. While other lawyers have created such assembly line practices, I have a completely different approach.
I urge you to avoid “mills,” discount lawyers, and law firms that use an assembly line approach. Ask yourself this question: If you needed surgery to remove a brain tumor, and a discount merchandise store began offering brain surgery at a discounted rate, would you have your surgery done there? The same thought should guide you in hiring a criminal defense attorney. You need a lawyer with years of experience in criminal defense who will handle your case from start to finish.
A Word About Bond.
In serious felony cases, such as vehicular homicide, aggravated assault, and homicide, the case typically begins with the suspect being arrested. Frequently, a bond is set in the first hearing within 24 hours of arrest. That bond is typically high. You need to understand how a bond works. If the bond is set, for instance, at $100,000, the bondsman will require that you post collateral, such as equity in a house in the amount of $100,000, the full amount of the bond. In addition, you will have to pay the bondsman a premium equal to a percentage of the bond. For example, the bondsman may require a ten percent premium, or $10,000 for a $100,000 bond. If the case is dismissed, or resolved, the bond is exonerated. That means the lien on your house will be released. You will not, however, get the premium back (for instance, the $10,000 used in my example).
Frequently, when people are arrested, there is a splash of publicity, and the magistrate at the initial appearance sets a very high bond. Families, desperate to get a loved one out of the jail, mortgage everything to post that bond. The premium is gone, even if the case is dismissed within days.
I recognize that having a loved one sitting in jail is terrifying, but consider the following facts. First, a competent lawyer can frequently get the bond very substantially reduced within a couple of weeks of arrest. The media attention dies down. Positive facts can be developed. Once the case gets assigned to a judge, rather than a magistrate, the judge is much more likely to reduce the bond.
Please keep this fact in mind: I have been representing defendants in criminal cases for over 35 years. I have represented many individuals who have been held in the Pima County Jail. The food is bad, and medical and dental care are worse, but I have never had a client who was seriously injured in the Pima County Jail.
If you or a loved one are charged with a crime, take your time. Research the attorney. If you know attorneys who practice in other areas of the law, ask them which criminal defense attorneys they respect. Most importantly, meet with the attorney. Make sure that the attorney can knowledgeably answer all of your questions and is someone that you can communicate with easily.
Getting through the criminal justice system is a confusing, nerve-wracking experience. The consequences can and will affect the rest of your life. Having a highly skilled and experienced lawyer that you have confidence in can make all of the difference.