How to Choose a PA Criminal Defense Attorney
Being in the position of having to retain a criminal defense attorney is not something any rational person would actually look forward to. While my clients are generally pleased with the outcome of their cases, when we say our goodbyes they uniformly tell me they hope to never see me again. I get that.
The above said, good people (whom I frequently refer to as “the uninitiated”) find themselves in the foreign position of having to select a criminal defense lawyer, whether due to a pending government investigation or recent charges. This article offers some “Do’s” and “Don’ts” to guide the uninitiated through the process of selecting an effective lawyer.
DO: Ask trusted family members, friends, colleagues for referral(s). You shouldn’t be embarrassed to ask, as it’s likely that someone you know and trust will have a name or two for you. Most of my clients are referred to me through former clients, other attorneys, and law enforcement. I imagine my contemporaries, the ones I respect, get the majority of their clients the same way. If your prospective lawyer does a good job and carries an excellent reputation, other people will recommend them. Let the people you trust, and have a basis of knowledge on the subject, steer you in the right direction.
DON’T: Choose your lawyer based on Internet advertisement (which includes sites that “rate” lawyers) or, worse, “personalized” solicitation letters. (People consulting with me for the first time are uniformly put off by the avalanche of letters they have received from other lawyers soliciting their business post- a recent arrest, but they must work to some degree, as a bunch of lawyers continue to send them. Not this lawyer.) There are good lawyers who advertise heavily on the internet. There are also a great number of marginal lawyers who advertise heavily on the internet. The point is, while the internet may let you see what’s out there, don’t use it exclusively to select your lawyer. To illustrate: my 8 year old son thinks hoverboards are a safe means of transportation based on his extensive internet research.
DO: Interview and assess your potential lawyer at the initial consult. You should expect to leave this meeting more (if not completely) informed about your situation, including potential outcomes, suggested approach, and suggested points of action to achieve the best possible outcome. To be clear: this meeting is not about the lawyer telling you what you want to hear to get your case. It’s about the lawyer evincing to you that they know what they’re doing, have an understanding of your matter, have handled similar matters, and are prepared to guide you through it with the best possible outcome in mind.
DON’T: Hire a lawyer who guarantees you an outcome, emphasizes “who they know,” emphasizes how inexpensive they are, or generally seems short on substance as to the actual law and procedures involved in your matter. If a lawyer guarantees you anything other than that they’ll work hard for you and be accessible to you, please walk out of their office. No one can guarantee an outcome of a case. I’ve found that a lawyer emphasizing “who they know” is generally directly disproportionate to “what they know.” Do yourself a favor, choose the latter. As to lawyers fixated on their low cost, you get what you pay for.
DO: Expect and require a written fee agreement. Lawyers have Rules of Professional Conduct to follow. These rules include the fact that we’re to specify our fee structure (including hourly rates, retainers, flat fees, etc.) to new clients in writing. You should know exactly what the fee you’re paying covers, and does not cover. If other attorneys are going to work on your case, their rates should be mentioned too. Anticipated costs separate and apart from your lawyer’s fee, examples being forensic witness fees and court reporter fees, should be mentioned.
DON’T: Hire a lawyer vague on details as to fees, or who expresses surprise or annoyance at the concept of a written fee letter. The fee letter is for your benefit, and you’re entitled to it.
DO: Feel free to interview multiple lawyers if you’re not completely sold on the first lawyer you meet.
DON’T: Hire a lawyer who presses you to make the decision of hiring them at your initial meeting. If they seem desperate, they probably are desperate. Desperate isn’t good.
This is normally an anxiety-inducing and emotional time for the uninitiated. Follow the above Do’s and Don’ts and you’ll find your way to an effective lawyer. The right lawyer will alleviate the anxiety by answering your questions about the process, discussing realistic outcomes, and how you might obtain those outcomes. The right lawyer will instill confidence in you, not by empty promises, boasts or bombast, but by knowledge, temperament and skill.
Peter Kratsa has over 20 years of experience practicing criminal law in state and federal courts. Mr. Kratsa also represents individuals and entities in regulatory matters such as professional license investigations and prosecutions. Peter Kratsa is a member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and serves on the Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (PACDL).
Contact Peter Kratsa, Esq. at [email protected] or 610.436.0100