Tips for Researching Criminal Lawyers
Not all lawyers are created the same. If you are facing a criminal charge, you want to find the right defence lawyer to ensure that your case is presented to the court in the best manner possible. Your future is at stake so this decision could be one of the most important ones you make in your legal journey.
The first step most people take in their quest to find a lawyer is to go to the Internet. For your search, enter keywords such as the type of charge you are facing and your location: [charge type] + [lawyer] + [Your city/province.] A listing of criminal lawyers in your area will come up, and their websites should give you an idea of their experience level and specialization.
Note: Most people don't scroll past page 1 in search engine results, but in this case, we recommend it.
Lawyers are not permitted to use bombastic language in their marketing activities, which include any means by which they promote their legal services or solicit clients. This ensures their marketing message is accurate, truthful, and not misleading. Sensationalistic or over-hyped language can create unrealistic expectations in the minds of potential clients. Lawyers must adhere to these marketing rules to maintain professional and ethical conduct.
What to look for online:
- Message to the reader: write up to the law firm's philosophy, expertise and lawyers' experience.
- Case history: provides an idea of the law firm's experience and success rate.
- Experience: years of practice, education, recognition and awards.
- Specialization in your issue: focus on handling cases related to your legal matter.
- Reviews and testimonials: feedback from former clients, typically found on external platforms or the law firm's website.
- Quality of presentation: quality writing, design, and general presentation signal the standard of the law firm's service.
While branded websites can provide helpful information, other sources exist for assessing a lawyer's skills and expertise. It is wise to look beyond the law firm's site and do further research, such as checking reviews and meeting with them in person. It is also important to note that not all good lawyers have good websites, and some experienced lawyers may not have a website at all.
There are also various online directories that criminal lawyers may be affiliated with. Your provincial or territorial law society will also have a website. It should be able to give you the names of lawyers in your community who will provide a free consultation and confirm the lawyer's status, discipline history, language(s) spoken and whether they are entitled to provide legal services.
Word-of-Mouth & Referrals
Ninety-two percent of consumers state that word-of-mouth recommendations are the “leading reason they buy a service” (Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messages Nielsen 2012). Your friends and family may be able to recommend a lawyer to you, although you may be hesitant to ask due to the social stigma surrounding criminal charges. While endorsements are important, remember that law is complex and specialized. If someone in your family had a good experience with a family lawyer, don't assume that a divorce lawyer will also be the right person to handle your criminal case.
Referrals between lawyers happen frequently. During the consultation, a lawyer may realize that one of their peers would better handle your case. You can trust this recommendation since lawyers see how each other works and will know if that person is right for you. Some law societies also have a referral service, allowing you to describe your legal issue in an online form. Based on that information, referrals to lawyers in your area will be given.
Looking Up Credentials
[ √ ] Law society
Every lawyer has to be licensed within the province or territory they practise. The law society of your province or territory can confirm the lawyer's status, discipline history and whether they are entitled to provide legal services.
Questions to ask the law society:
- Does 'this' lawyer actively provide legal services?
- Is there a history of discipline, professional misconduct, or license restrictions?
[ √ ] Education
Another qualification to look for in a lawyer is any additional post-secondary education beyond their undergraduate and law degrees. This can benefit a criminal lawyer by providing a deeper understanding of the law, specialized knowledge, and improved skills.
[ √ ] Awards
Researching the credibility of awards is essential to evaluate a lawyer's expertise. Awards from reputable legal groups indicate excellence and recognition by peers. But, it's crucial to consider the award-giving organization's reputation, as some may have less rigorous selection processes or sell awards for a fee, which can decrease their value.
[ √ ] Media
Searching the lawyer's name online can provide valuable insights into their experience, legal knowledge, and reputation in the legal community. Positive media coverage can indicate a respected and influential lawyer, while negative coverage could be a red flag and prompt further investigation into their background and conduct.
A Defence Lawyer's Experience
A criminal lawyer is responsible for defending the rights of people who could face lengthy incarceration upon conviction. The stakes are high, and this high-pressure environment is not suitable for every lawyer. When it comes to defence law, there is no substitute for years of experience, which translates into a better likelihood of success. A seasoned lawyer typically knows the Crown prosecutors and judges. That gives them insight into knowing which judges might be sympathetic toward a situation or which prosecutors are tough. More importantly, they know what defence strategies work in a courtroom.
Questions to ask about experience:
- How long have you practiced criminal law?
- Have you represented others with a similar case?
- What might a favourable result look like for me?
Qualities to Look For
During the initial consultation, you should get a sense of whether you are comfortable with the lawyer. You will need to trust them with details of your life and what led to the criminal charge you are facing. Compatibility is key. You want to build a professional rapport with your lawyer, not a friendship. Your lawyer should be focused on dealing with the criminal charges you are facing and be receptive to your ideas of how the case could be handled.
Items to note during the interview:
- Do they explain things clearly in a way you understand?
- Will they personally handle your case, or will others in the firm manage it?
- Are they determined, persistent and willing to challenge authority?
- How will they put your best interest in mind?
No lawyer can guarantee an outcome. The same result may not be achieved even if your case is similar to another. Each case is different, and all any lawyer can do is promise to do their best to defend you.
Budget and Costs
Budget is an essential factor to consider. Finding a balance between experience and cost is vital, and clients should consider their budget when looking for a lawyer with the right level of experience they can afford. An experienced defence lawyer may come with a higher cost, but their skills and knowledge could save you time and hardship in the long run. Depending on the charge, a less experienced lawyer may be just as effective, especially if they have a good track record.
Can you afford it?
Criminal lawyers will ask you to sign a retainer agreement. It will set out the legal services to be provided, how fees will be charged (hourly or block fees), the consequences of failing to pay and what happens if either party decides to terminate the relationship.
There is a set cost associated with this agreement that varies between firms. Look around and decide what you can afford, keeping in mind that the cost of an experienced, competent lawyer is probably the best investment you can make when facing a criminal charge.
Questions about costs:
- How much do you charge?
- Do you bill an hourly rate or in block fees?
- Do you offer a payment plan?
- For how long will it take to defend a case like this one?
- Do you accept Legal Aid?
Picking the right criminal lawyer is a crucial decision that requires careful consideration. A thorough search, both online and through referrals, is necessary to assess a lawyer's qualifications, experience, and credentials. It is essential to choose a lawyer with a track record of success in handling cases similar to yours and one with the proper knowledge and expertise. Compatibility, communication, and budget are also important factors to consider.
Ultimately, by taking the time to find the right lawyer, you should feel confident that you are taking the necessary steps to protect your future and reputation in a legal matter.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog is for general educational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Each case is unique and the laws discussed may not apply to your specific situation. Please consult a qualified lawyer in your area for personalized guidance. The information in this blog is not guaranteed to be accurate or up-to-date and should not be relied upon as a substitute for consultation with a professional.