10 Things to Consider when Hiring a Criminal Defense Lawyer in San Diego

1. The attorney must have experience handling your type of criminal case.

Ask your attorney about his or her experience, education, and familiarity with your type of case, and the problems that may be present in this type of matter.

2. The attorney should be familiar with the judges and local prosecutors that will be involved in your case.

The attorney should therefore be able to either recite from memory the judges and prosecutors relevant to your case, or be able to quickly acquire the information from local attorneys. In some matters it may be prudent to associate local counsel into a case. Local personalities and practices can affect how issues are resolved in your matter.

3. The attorney should be able to clearly explain the court process.

The attorney should provide you with an understanding of what he or she may be able to accomplish at each stage of the proceedings.

4. More than 90% of cases settle before trial either by plea bargain, diversion or dismissal of charges.

Consequently, your attorney should have familiarity with your type of matter and be able to explain how your type of case is often treated by the courts in the event of a conviction. The attorney should be thoroughly familiar with alternative sentencing arrangements and be able to clearly discuss how to possibly avoid jail and prison. An ethical lawyer will never play “hide-the-ball” when discussing a case, especially when the case involves a relatively uncomplicated matter. Ethical criminal defense lawyers do not use scare tactics.

5. Your criminal defense attorney must have jury trial experience.

One way to value the worth of a plea bargain is to be familiar with how a jury may treat the issues in your case. An attorney who does not take cases to trial will have difficulty providing you with clear advice on the risks and consequences of taking or rejecting a plea agreement.

6. Ask the attorney how he or she measures success in their practice.

7. Continuing Education.

Ask the attorney how he or she keeps abreast of legal developments and what legal organizations or groups that lawyer belongs to.

8. Different attorneys will often quote different fees for the same case.

Most criminal defense lawyers charge flat fees or a retainer that has a non-refundable component. This arrangement does lead to different quotes for the same case. An ethical criminal defense lawyer will be able to clearly explain the reasons behind the quoted fee. This usually involves the lawyer’s assessment of the work that will be involved, the complexity of the case, the amount of time to be spent out of the office and in court, and the likelihood that the attorney will have to turn away business to focus exclusively on the case. Incidentally, the California Bar Association is considering revising the rules pertaining to flat-fee arrangements in favor of hourly fees.

9. The attorney should be able to explain what ancillary fees may be necessary to your defense.

The attorney should be able to predict what fees may be necessary for investigation, forensic testing, exhibits, paralegal work, etc.

10. The court will appoint a free attorney to those people unable to afford counsel.

Local indigent defense groups, such as the San Diego Office of the Public Defender, have some of the best attorneys in town in their employ. An ethical attorney will never disparage other attorneys or the Public Defenders.

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