If you've been charged with a crime, you may be scared, confused and not sure what to do next. You might be tempted to represent yourself in court. However, this is almost never a wise choice. At the very least, consult a lawyer about your case and the charges that you face.

If you’re accused of a more serious crime or require more assistance, it’s important for you to consider hiring a competent lawyer to represent you. Here’s a closer look at what to look for.

Benefits of Hiring an Attorney

First, an attorney understands the nuances of the law, including court customs, procedures and legal interpretations of similar cases. They understand what crimes a prosecutor can charge you with and what arguments or angles may be most effective in defending you against those charges. They also understand what makes your case different from similar cases.

In addition, defense lawyers understand local politics and pressures. For example, an attorney will know if a judge is up for re-election, how public sentiment factors into the charges that you face, etc.

What Does an Attorney Do?

Now that you understand some of the benefits of hiring an attorney, let’s take a look at what exactly an attorney does for you:

  • Negotiates a plea deal that reduces your punishment.
  • Negotiates sentences that are fair to you and increases the likelihood that you will not be a repeat offender.
  • Helps you cope with the complex emotions you may be facing, such as fear, anxiety and anger.
  • Raises issues or filing motions that could help your case get dismissed or improve the outcome of your case.
  • Objectively assesses your situation and gives you honest feedback about your situation.
  • Helps you understand the consequences of pleading guilty.
  • Hires and manages investigators or experts to build your case.
  • Interviews witnesses and obtains information that boosts your case.

What to Look for in a Criminal Defense Attorney

Trying to find a criminal defense attorney can seem overwhelming because of the sheer number available. Keep in mind that each defense attorney has a specific area of expertise (some may have more than one). Be sure to choose one that specializes in the kind of criminal charges that you face. For example, if you are charged with a federal crime, you want to be sure that your attorney has experience with federal cases, which are typically more complex than state cases.

If your case involves crime scene investigations, polygraphs, and/or photographic or video evidence, you may want to find an attorney who is familiar with that particular kind of evidence. Additionally, be certain that the attorney you hire is familiar with the court rules and criminal statutes of your city, county or state.

Questions to Ask a Potential Attorney Before Hiring

Hiring a criminal defense lawyer is a serious matter that should not be taken lightly. Before hiring someone, try to meet with at least three or four lawyers to see if they will be a good fit. During this meeting, you can assess their knowledge, communication skills and demeanor. Here are some questions to ask a lawyer before you hire them:

  1. Where did you go to law school, and when did you graduate?
  2. How long have you been a criminal lawyer?
  3. How familiar are you with the charges I face?
  4. What defense strategy do you recommend for my case?
  5. How much of my case will you handle yourself, and how much will be handled by someone else in your office? Can I meet the people who will be working on my case alongside you?
  6. How many people have you represented in court?
  7. How much do you charge, and what is your fee structure?
  8. How often do you settle cases or arrange plea agreements?
  9. What is your relationship with the prosecutor’s office?
  10. If I need to reach you, how do I do that? How responsive will you be if I need to reach you?
  11. Why should I hire you to represent me?
  12. Can I see a sample contract before I hire you?
  13. Can you give me a few references from clients you’ve represented in the past?

After you’ve met with a few potential attorneys, do your homework before you hire them. Find out whether they are in good standing with the state bar association. Google their names to see if they’ve been involved in any high-profile cases that have been in the news. Finally, view their website to make sure that they have the right background and resources to best represent you.

If you’re facing criminal charges, a good attorney can make the difference between a good and bad outcome. Make sure you’re weighing all of your options to hire the best legal representation for you and your situation.